Juneteenth: A celebration of freedom, a call to action

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Juneteenth, variously known as Freedom Day, Emancipation Day, Jubilee day or Liberation Day, is a holiday commemorating the June 19, 1865 announcement in Galveston, Texas of the emancipation of all chattel slaves following the end of the Civil War.

The oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States, Juneteenth – a portmanteau of June and nineteenth – is sometimes referred to as Independence Day for Blacks or America’s second Independence Day.

Appropriately, in 1980 Texas became the first state in the U.S. to declare Juneteenth a state holiday. Juneteenth was designated as a federal holiday on June 17, 2021, by unanimous vote of the Senate and an overwhelming majority of Congress, making it the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was declared a holiday in 1983.

The Washington state legislature officially recognized Juneteenth as a state holiday in 2021. Read this opinion piece by LaNesha DeBardelaben, director of the Northwest African American Museum, on our state’s newest official holiday.

Although the Emancipation Proclamation officially abolished slavery in states rebelling against the Union more than two years earlier, in January 1863, widespread knowledge and implementation of the proclamation was slow to spread across many southern states. Historians have various theories for why this is, with most agreeing that slave owners’ disingenuity played a part.

However, while official commemoration of Juneteenth offers the opportunity to joyfully reflect on and communally celebrate the progress made toward racial equality, the historic impact of slavery in the United States continues to shape our communities and our lives.

“[Juneteenth] is a way of acknowledging that we can embrace those parts of our society that embody our highest aspirations for equity, justice and inclusion, while also continuing to work for change that is urgently needed.” –UW President Ana Mari Cauce


More than three years after the murder of George Floyd and other Black Americans, still recovering from a global pandemic that both exposed and further intensified the pervasive and systemic inequities endemic in our cultural fabric, momentum from the Black Lives Matter protests has prompted renewed interest in and support of Juneteenth throughout the country.

Across the UW, anti-racist and diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives have been put in place to ensure that systemic barriers to education and resources that disproportionally affect BIPOC students, faculty and staff are removed.

BlackPast.org provides information on African American history and the history of more than one billion people of African ancestry around the world. In the article Juneteenth: The Growth of an African American Holiday, UW Professor Emeritus and historian Dr. Quintard Taylor describes the origins and evolution of the Juneteenth holiday since 1865.

In Juneteenth: A Primer, author Mitchell S. Jackson provides compelling historical context for Juneteenth celebrations.

Read How to properly celebrate Juneteenth in the age of commercialization for commentary from NPR about the increasing commodification of what used to be a small, localized observance.

The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture offers a wealth of information about the history and significance of Juneteenth. Start here:

Those looking for book choices, including books for kids, may find the following curated lists helpful:

For people who hold multiple marginalized identities, Black and LGBTQ: Approaching Intersectional Conversations can help guide discussions exploring the layers of different lived experiences.


Historically, Juneteenth was celebrated in Texas with family gatherings and reunions, public readings of the Emancipation Proclamation or sermons, singing and small festivals. People dressed up in their finery as a nod to the lack of nice – or any — clothing available to the enslaved.

The red, white and blue Juneteenth flag (pictured) was created in 1997 specifically to represent the holiday. In 2007, the date of the first Juneteenth (June 19, 1865) was added to the flag. The colors selected were intentionally chosen to demonstrate that formerly enslaved people and their descendants are free Americans, too.

Red foods, such as red soda, punch, hibiscus tea, red velvet cake, red beans and rice, hot sauce, strawberry and watermelon are traditional on the holiday both to acknowledge the bloodshed of slaves and because many of the more common foods for the enslaved were white, green or brown–meaning traditional red foods were seen as exciting, celebratory treats.

For main dishes, barbeque was and remains the order of the day. Historically across Texas, people roasted whole pigs, cows or goats over open pits in a manner practiced traditionally in Africa. Nowadays, fish fries, crab boils and seasoned shrimp are also popular—hearkening back to coastal Southern Black communities whose Juneteenth meals were comprised mostly of seafood.

While still largely a day for family – particularly in more rural areas – many people celebrate Juneteenth with a trip to a ball game, rodeo, music festival or parade.

Other ways to celebrate

Order food from local black-owned businesses or from this kid-friendly list from Tiny Beans on Juneteenth and year-round. You can also visit Hungry for the Culture to find Black-owned restaurants in most major U.S. cities. Sweet bonus: Check out these six Black-owned bakeries in Seattle, or grab a cup at Black Coffee Northwest in Shoreline or Ballard. And be sure to tune in virtually to the Juneteenth music festival.

Local Observances

Celebrate Juneteenth with the Northwest African American Museum! NAAM exhibits the history, art, and culture of people of African descent and the Black experience in America. The exhibits and events include roots in slavery and the connections between the Pacific Northwest and people of African descent, as well as more recent immigrants from Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia, and other countries.

Free 2023 NAAM events include a youth night, game show competition and film festival culminating with a Juneteenth skate party, Black vendor market, yoga in the park and more at Judkins Park in Seattle.

As a federal holiday, Juneteenth is a Discover Pass free day so on Monday, June 19 you can explore Washington state parks and recreation lands for free.

The Juneteenth Community Health Fair at Rainier Beach Community Plaza is a free, family-firendly celebration with food trucks, activities for kids, live performances, and more! Sunday, June 19 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Popular Black-owned restaurant Communion is hosting a free Juneteenth mixer at 24th & Union in the Central District. Stop by to support local DJs, storefronts, and over 30 vendors. Sunday, June 19 from 12 to 5 p.m.

Festival Sundiata Black Arts Fest will be held July 14 – 16, 2023 at the Seattle Center. This family-friendly festival celebrates the arts and educates the community about people of African descent who form a melting pot of cultures and ethnicities. The festival will encompass, music, spoken word, food, vendors, information, employment opportunities an incredible art exhibition and sale, drill team exhibition, and much, much, more.


Consider making a one-time gift or setting up monthly payroll deduction through the UWCFD to one of many member organizations actively working to remove systemic barriers to Black opportunity and support communities in which Black voices and lives matter:

UW’s Black Opportunity Fund (charity code 1482916) was created to address the challenges and harm of systemic racism on our Black students, staff, and faculty. Awards, scholarships, programs and services will amplify and elevate Black experiences and communities.

NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (charity code 0316271) is the nation’s premier legal organization dedicated to fighting for racial justice and defending the protections of civil rights for all Americans.

Southern Poverty Law Center (charity code 0316284) is a catalyst for racial justice in the South and beyond, working in partnership with communities to dismantle white supremacy, strengthen intersectional movements, and advance the human rights of all people.

UW Association of Black Business Students Endowed Scholarship (charity code 1481305) provides funding to support UW Business School students with preference given to undergraduates who are of African American heritage.

Black Women’s Health Imperative (charity code 1482760) is the only national organization dedicated to improving the health and wellness of the nation’s 21 million Black women and girls physically, emotionally, and financially.

National Black Child Development Institute (charity code 0315476) works to improve and advance the quality of life for Black children and families through education, advocacy, and other programs.

The Buffalo Soldiers Museum (charity code 1481644) mission is to educate, preserve and present the history and outstanding contributions of America’s Buffalo Soldiers from 1866 – 1945 including WWII 1941 – 1945.

One Thought on “Juneteenth: A celebration of freedom, a call to action”

On June 18, 2023 at 12:54 AM, Billy Colburn said:

Well done: Extensive, incisive, informative, relevant, pertinent, inclusive and reverent. Thank you.
Billy Colburn

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