Juneteenth, short for June 19th, commemorates the day the last remaining enslaved people in the U.S. — in Galveston, Texas — received word that the Civil War had ended and they had been liberated by the federal orders in President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.
The year was 1865 — two and a half years after Lincoln's proclamation.
In the following years, the anniversary of this event was celebrated and honored in Galveston with prayer and family gatherings.
Now, Juneteenth is celebrated annually through backyard parties, community parades, memorials, delicious meals, and more.
Over time, as the descendants of the more than 250,000 enslaved individuals in Galveston began migrating to other parts of the country, the Juneteenth tradition spread.
In whatever way Juneteenth is celebrated, it has ultimately become a time of sharing stories of Black resilience, resistance, liberation, and joy.
We’ve created a guide on how to thoughtfully celebrate and recognize Juneteenth this year:
How To Celebrate Juneteenth: Resources, Ideas, & Activities
Learn the history of Juneteenth.
Juneteenth has been celebrated for hundreds of years — but many don't know the full context and history of the annual holiday. Now is the perfect time to learn.
We recommend turning to The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture website, which offers blog posts on the legacy and celebration of Juneteenth and so many more resources.
Learning from today’s scholars and academics, like LaTaSha Levy, an assistant professor of American ethnic studies at the University of Washington, is a great way to learn more about Black joy, community connection, and reeducation.
If you’re more of an auditory learner, we recommend listening to our podcast episode with Pulitzer Prize winner and professor Gordon-Reed as she discusses Juneteenth’s history and how we can keep it alive all year round. Her book, On Juneteenth, is a short, beautiful, insightful read.
Vox’s podcast episode with Ibram X. Kendi, author, anti-racist activist, and historian of race and discriminatory policy in America, gives powerful insight on racism, Juneteenth, and how we can work to enact change.
Watch a documentary about slavery.
It’s important to note that though the U.S. ended chattel slavery, slavery is still legal (and continues to this day) via a loophole in the 13th Amendment.
A great resource to learn more about this loophole in the 13th Amendment is the documentary 13th on Netflix.
Experts and activists see this loophole as directly linked to the current U.S. prison system, which incarcerates Black people at disproportionately higher rates and profits off their labor.
The documentary provides the origins of this loophole, where we are today, and how we can act to end this modern-day slavery.
Visit a museum.
Museums are the time capsules of society, allowing us to see, hear, and (sometimes) touch history. We learn about generations past in a way that other forms of learning might not communicate as well.
American museums are uniquely using Juneteenth as an opportunity to celebrate, honor, remember, and educate — and we’ve got a few (of the many) museums that, according to Tufts University, are celebrating Juneteenth:
- The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture, Washington, D.C.
- Houston Museum of African American Culture, Houston, Texas
- African American Museum in Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas
- The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA
- America’s Black Holocaust Museum, Milwaukee, WI
- Amistad Research Center, New Orleans, LA
- August Wilson African American Cultural Center, Pittsburgh, PA
- California African American Museum, Los Angeles, CA
- Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, Detroit, MI
- Historic Mitchelville Freedom Park, Hilton Head Island, SC
- The National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel, Memphis, TN
- The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Cincinnati, OH
- Northwest African American Museum, Seattle, WA
- … and even this IKEA in San Antonio, Texas
Read books written by Black authors and poets.
Juneteenth is a celebration of liberation, joy, and of course, storytelling. Black authors and poets, such as Amanda Gorman — who captivated the world when she recited her hope-centric poem, “The Hill We Climb,” at Joe Biden's presidential inauguration — are inspiring a new generation of helpers and activists.
To understand Juneteenth, and the events that followed, we recommend reading “Black Reconstruction” by W. E. B. Du Bois, which gives a sharp account of the history of the Civil War and Reconstruction.
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture is one of many organizations sharing Juneteenth reading lists that you can dive into.
Listen to audiobooks written or narrated by Black authors and poets.
We love Libro.fm and its mission to support locally owned bookshops through audiobook purchases. (Plus, it’s a great Amazon alternative.) In honor of Juneteenth, they’re highlighting Black-owned bookstores, Black authors, and Black narrators.
Listeners can browse through their extensive library and find content aimed at empowering, learning, and celebrating the Black experience.
Support Black-owned businesses.
A simple way to celebrate Juneteenth is by supporting Black creators and entrepreneurs.
The Center for American Progress reported that "while Black Americans make up 13% of the U.S. population, they own less than 2% of small businesses with employees. By contrast, white Americans make up 60% of the U.S. population but own 82% of small employer firms.
If financial capital were more evenly distributed and Black Americans enjoyed the same business ownership and success rates as their white counterparts, there would be approximately 860,000 additional Black-owned firms employing more than 10 million people.”
A clear solution? Supporting small and supporting Black-owned businesses.
We created a guide on places to find Black-owned businesses that you can support both within your community and around the United States — and why it matters.
Eat at Black-owned restaurants.
Early Juneteenth celebrations revolved around food and music. A great way to continue this tradition and celebration is by choosing to eat at Black-owned restaurants.
Make sure to tip well.
Buy a gift card from a Black-owned restaurant.
A valuable way of supporting Black-owned restaurants beyond Juneteenth is by purchasing gift cards. Although many small businesses appreciate the influx of customers on Juneteenth or Black History Month, many, unfortunately, only see support on national holidays.
Let’s change that.
Support Black-owned restaurants by popping into their businesses and buying gift cards for friends and family members (or for yourself!).
Donate to Black-led nonprofits and community organizations.
Black-led organizations have long been the backbone of activist communities across the country.
We can celebrate Juneteenth by donating to organizations that understand the needs of the Black community and use their resources to address them as best as they can.
Supporting organizations like The Solutions Project, an intersectional environmental advocacy group creating opportunities for women of color to gain access to nonprofit funding, and The Loveland Foundation which provides therapy support to Black women, girls, and gender nonbinary individuals, which is vital in addressing real systemic injustice.
You can also explore more Black-led organizations to support via Giving Gap’s incredible website. They curate incredible Black-led nonprofits and organize them by cause and state.
Give your employees time off — or additional pay — for Juneteenth.
Since Juneteenth is now a federal holiday, many employers take this opportunity to give their employees time off and use this time to educate and raise awareness about the holiday.
According to a survey conducted by Mercer in 2021, 9% of surveyed companies planned to observe Juneteenth as a holiday in 2021. Some companies, like Starbucks and Best Buy, have been known to keep their retail locations open on Juneteenth but provide employees with additional pay, according to NPR.
However, it’s important that these celebrations or days off are a meaningful and authentic initiative, and not just a box a company checks off on their calendar.
Employers can also use Juneteenth as a way to give back to the community by hosting a philanthropy event, participating in a community service initiative, or offering the day as a “volunteer time-off” event for employees to get involved in their communities. Some companies have even given their employees paid volunteer time off so they can participate in area protests or rallies.
Create an informative email auto-response
If your company is closed for Juneteenth, create an email auto-response that shares why the company is closed and why Juneteenth is important.
Continuing to share information with people about the historic significance of this holiday is a great way to further stand in solidarity with your Black team members.
Highlight Juneteenth in your newsletter.
Although it would be great if everyone could provide their employees with time off, many small businesses or essential workers are not afforded the option to take a day off or offer the various benefits that larger corporations might.
However, and similar to drafting an informative email response, utilizing your current email marketing platforms is a great way to share more about Juneteenth.
This could mean including a sentence or two — or an entire section — in your newsletter acknowledging Juneteenth and how readers can thoughtfully celebrate. (Maybe even share this article as a resource).
Turn your good intentions into real change.
Workplace actions should go beyond just celebrating Juneteenth or other holidays and awareness months. If you want to help ensure that your good intentions are actually helping, it’s going to take intentionality and expertise.
Talk to your kids about race.
People often tie a lot of their beliefs and values to what they learned at home growing up. We can help celebrate Juneteenth by having conversations around the dinner table about what this day means to the Black community and how we can show support.
For children of all racial identities, Juneteenth can be a time for learning about slavery in the U.S., the resilience of Black Americans, and the bravery it took to end slavery. It can also be a time to just learn about the history of racism in general and how oppressive systems still deeply harm Black communities today.
We recommend turning to the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s kid’s guide on understanding and celebrating Juneteenth, as well as their guide on talking to children about race.
Age of Learning also has a great list of book recommendations to get started in engaging your children in these conversations.
These straightforward resources are great tools for parents and teachers who are figuring out the “right way” to explain dark, painful moments in history.
Practice saving funds for regular donations.
If your kiddos have an allowance or lemonade stand, chances are, you’re hoping to teach them the value of money. Extend that conversation to include discussions of community care, mutual aid, fundraising, and wealth redistribution.
These topics can feel like big or confusing ideas, but encourage your children to save some of their money in a special jar that they can use to support an organization or community member of their choice down the road.
You don’t need to give them a full explainer on capitalism (or do, we won’t stop you!), but you can teach them how to use their privileges in ways that help their neighbors.
Perhaps you can head to the library and research different fundraising ideas, read about various causes or social movements, and make this a learning experience for the whole family.
As An Ally, To Show Support
Don’t make it about you.
Just like Pride isn’t about having a gay best friend, Juneteenth is not about your anti-racism journey as an ally. While we use the term “celebrating,” this day holds grave historical and cultural significance that can be deeply painful for many Black community members.
Don’t wish folks a “Happy Juneteenth!” like it’s Halloween or a birthday party. Don’t post on social media about all the amazing things you’ve done as an ally. Don’t co-opt Black spaces, unless you are explicitly invited to events (and even then, consider what that means and what privilege you hold).
Listen. Learn. Redistribute wealth. And, with all the love and respect in the world, shut up for a minute.
Do something to make a Black person’s life easier — with their consent
TikTok creator Maekae Woods shared a great resource about how white people can honor Juneteenth, and in her comments, someone said that they planned to take on an extra shift so their Black coworker could have the day off. What a great idea!
Consider what you have to offer (time, money, a meal, a letter of recommendation, an hour of childcare), and use your skills to support a Black friend or community member. However, make sure you aren’t doing the white savior thing, and confirm that your support is wanted and welcomed.
We’ll say it again: Shop Black — and don’t buy Walmart’s ice cream.
If there’s one thing we definitely don’t need on Juneteenth, it’s Juneteenth-themed merch from big corporations. Walmart recently came under fire (rightfully so) for selling Juneteenth-themed ice cream and shirts. If you’re reading this article, we don’t need to explain to you how outrageous that is.
So instead of engaging with that tomfoolery, we’ll remind you again: Shop Black! There are so many great Black-owned businesses or service providers you can support, both on Juneteenth and moving forward.
Don’t leave your anti-racism work behind after Juneteenth.
We hope that this guide is a launch pad — or a refresher — for your anti-racism work, but we also hope that you will keep the momentum going after Juneteenth passes this year. It’s important to celebrate the progress we’ve made and the strides society has taken to uplift and emancipate our Black neighbors. Still, we know that systemic oppression doesn’t just disappear once a year.
Hire diverse creatives year-round, support Black artists and creators, keep reading and learning from brilliant Black scholars and storytellers, support Black businesses and restaurants, allocate financial resources to make consistent charitable contributions, and continue your role in the fight for liberation all days of the year.
Access free educational resources on American slavery.
Children spend their formative years (and a huge chunk of their daily lives) in the classroom retaining information, learning how to think independently, and asking questions.
Though slavery in America is a hard subject to teach in the classroom, there are organizations focused on making it easier for educators to access age-appropriate tools and resources to teach American history.
Learning for Justice helps educators and students reduce prejudice by providing free educational resources — articles, guides, lessons, films, podcasts, webinars, frameworks, and more — to help foster shared learning and reflection for educators, youth, and the general public.
Add books on Juneteenth in your classroom library.
Providing students with free, easy access to racially diverse literature through school or in-class libraries is a great way of providing independent learning opportunities in the classroom.
However, we know that many school districts across the U.S. suffer from funding disparities — especially within low-income areas. As a result, many children (and consequently their teachers) are left with a limited selection of books, school supplies, and educational materials.
The First Book Marketplace provides educators, librarians, and others working with low-income children with thousands of free and affordable high-quality, brand-new books, educational resources, and basic needs items at highly affordable prices — or for free.
On Social Media
Share photos of past or present Juneteenth celebrations.
Social media can be a powerful tool to share Black stories, celebrations, and history with the world.
Share your Juneteenth celebration with your community or access the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture Social Media Toolkit to help share more insight on what this day means to you and your family.
Amplify Black voices.
We’ll say it again: if you are not a part of the Black community, don’t make it about you. Don’t post on social media about all the amazing things you’ve done as an ally.
Instead, virtually listen, learn, and support Black voices by amplifying their content.