UW Combined Fund Drive

June 5, 2024

Juneteenth: A celebration of freedom, a call to action

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.

red and blue Juneteenth flagThe 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,” wrote UW President Ana Mari Cauce in 2023.

Learn more about Juneteenth

One of the best ways to learn more about Juneteenth is through the pages of BlackPast.org, the exhaustive site charting the history of African Americans and more than a billion people of African ancestry around the world. The distinguished UW historian Dr. Quintard Taylor, creator of BlackPast.org, describes the origins and evolution of the Juneteenth holiday since 1965 in the article Juneteenth: The Growth of an African American Holiday.

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.

How to celebrate Juneteenth

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.

A great way to celebrate and support Black culture and community on Juneteenth or any day is to eat, drink or shop at local Black-owned businesses. Check out this directory of businesses from the Seattle Urban League and this roster of restaurants, bars and cafes from Seattle Met.

Local observances

The Northwest African American Museum (NAAM) will celebrate Juneteenth from June 15 to June 19 with its annual skate party, Father’s Day celebration and a full slate of family activities (plus free admission) on Juneteenth proper, when you can experience current exhibits on Jacob Lawrence, “Freedom of Expression” from Black artists, “Interrupting Privilege” and “Emmett Till & Mamie Till-Mobley: Let the World See.”

Washington State Parks offer free admission for recreation on Juneteenth.

Summer of Soul Juneteenth celebration brings music and community to Jimi Hendrix Park on June 19.

Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute presents “We’re Free Now,” a celebration of Black genius on June 19.

Washington State History Museum presents original works by youth writers and adults from the African American Writers’ Alliance plus interactive mural making on June 20.

Atlantic Street Center celebrates Juneteenth with family-friendly fun, welcoming community organizations, Black businesses and food vendors and dynamic performances on June 22.

Festival Sundiata presents Black Arts Fest in partnership with Sundiata African American Cultural Association (SAACA) in the Seattle Center Armory and Mural Amphitheatre on August 23-25.

Support the Black community

Consider making a one-time gift or setting up monthly payroll deduction through the UW CFD 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 Black Opportunity Fund – providing awards, scholarships, programs and services to amplify and elevate Black experiences and communities (charity code: 1482916).

UW Association of Black Business Students Endowed Scholarship – supports undergraduate students of African ancestry at the Foster School of Business (charity code: 1481305).

NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund – fighting for racial justice and defending the protections of civil rights for all Americans (charity code: 0316271).

Southern Poverty Law Center – working in partnership with communities to dismantle white supremacy, strengthen intersectional movements, and advance the human rights of all people (charity code: 0316284).

Black Women’s Health Imperative – improving the health and wellness of the nation’s 21 million Black women and girls physically, emotionally and financially (charity code: 1482760).

National Black Child Development Institute – improving and advancing the quality of life for Black children and families through education, advocacy and other programs (charity code: 0315476).

The Buffalo Soldiers Museum – educating, preserving and presenting the history and outstanding contributions of America’s Buffalo Soldiers from 1866 to 1945 (charity code: 1481644).