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How to celebrate Juneteenth, the new American holiday

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bbernard | Shutterstock

Zoe Romanowsky - published on 06/18/21

The new holiday in the U.S. marks an important day of Emancipation for African Americans.

Americans have a new federal holiday. June 19 is now officially called “Juneteenth National Independence Day.” But while you may have heard about it, you may not know what it means. The day marks a historic event that took place on June 19, 1865.

The Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, declared that all slaves in the Southern states were free, but it took more than two years — June 19, 1865 — for the news to make it to Texas, a state that continued to enslave people, though many had been freed in other Confederate states by then.

The day that Union Major General Gordon Granger announced the end of slavery in Galveston, Texas, became known as “Freedom Day” and “Emancipation Day” and eventually “Juneteenth.” It marks the day that all Black people in the south were finally free. (Sixteen months later, with the ratification of the 15th Amendment, slavery was outlawed across the nation.)

Most holidays already have established traditions, but when a new holiday is proclaimed new traditions are called for. How should we mark Juneteenth?

Here are 3 ways we can begin to commemorate this important event in American history.

Pray for the end of racism and healing of the country

Take some time on June 19 to pray for Black Americans and for the healing of this country’s racial problems. Ask for the intercession of saints and venerables like St. Martin de Porres, St. Katharine Drexel, Venerable Augustus Tolton, Venerable Pierre Toussaint, and Servant of God Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange.

Take time to read up on the history of the day

When we understand our history and its impact, we can better understand the issues we face today. We can use this holiday to teach our children (and ourselves!) about what happened before, during, and after that June 19 in this country. There are many books, movies, programs, and podcasts that explain the history of Juneteenth.

Join community events or host a gathering

Check to see if there are any parades, fairs, performances, or events in your town, city or community marking the day. Because it’s a new holiday, there may not be anything planned, so consider starting your own by gathering friends and neighbors and taking a few moments to share some of the history with them — since many people still have no idea what Juneteenth is all about.

There are also online events to participate in — for example, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., has a full lineup of digital resources to mark the holiday, which includes talks and musical performances.

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