What does June mean to you? Besides the first days of summer, most LGBTQ+ folks look forward to the month of Pride flags, parties, and parades. And for many members of the Black community, June also means the celebration of freedom. It means gathering with friends and family to observe Juneteenth.
The Origin of Juneteenth
Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, but it would take a war to liberate Black human beings across the South. More than two years and 620,000 deaths later, America’s enslaved people were freed with the end of the Civil War on April 9, 1865. But in Texas, slave labor would continue to fuel the economy for another two months.
In fact, a full 71 days after General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse, 250,000 Black people remained enslaved in the former Confederacy’s westernmost—and thus most isolated—state. Word of their newfound freedom finally arrived on June 19, 1865, when Union troops reached Galveston, Texas. The next year, Black Texans commemorated this event with a celebration. Called Juneteenth (or Freedom Day), it honored the liberation of Black Americans following more than two centuries of enslavement.
Since that first celebration, the tradition of Juneteenth has spread throughout the U.S. thanks to the resilience of Black Americans who continue to honor their ancestors through yearly celebrations of freedom. In recent years, though, many Americans of all races have followed the lead of Black friends and neighbors in honoring this sacred day in our shared history.
For many LGBTQ+ folks, Juneteenth is also inextricably connected to Pride celebrations. Of course, in some ways, this is obvious—Juneteenth and Pride fall in the same month, after all. But another consideration is the intersectional experience of Black LGBTQ+ people. Think of all the Black queer folks whose work may not have been possible if not for Juneteenth: Michael Baldwin, Lorraine Hansberry, Alice Walker, Pauli Murray, Marth P. Johnson, and so many more. Where would Pride Month be—and would it exist at all—without the events of June 19, 1865?
Celebrating Juneteenth Today
For this reason and countless others, Juneteenth celebrations deserve their special place in American culture. If you’re from a Black family, you likely already have time-honored Juneteenth traditions. But if you’re not or you don’t, here are five ways to honor the day:
1. Learn about Black history and culture.
Juneteenth is a great time to educate yourself on Black history and culture. Choose a Black icon or historical event, and learn everything you can about it. From blogs to podcasts, videos, and books, there are many resources at your disposal.
2. Have an anti-racism check-in with friends and family.
Spend the day checking in with friends or family. What are your anti-racist goals, and how are you progressing toward them? Bonus points if you’re a parent and have this discussion with your children.
3. Visit a Black-owned business.
Find at least one Black-owned business you can support on Juneteenth. There are a number of directories to help you find one in your area. If you’re short on cash, find a Black creator to promote instead. Like, follow, subscribe, and amplify them on social media.
4. Donate or volunteer for a cause benefiting the Black community.
Black communities are still experiencing the long-reaching negative effects of slavery, prejudice, and discrimination today. On Juneteenth, find a way to help out—volunteer locally or find a cause to support that benefits the Black population.
5. Attend a Juneteenth celebration.
But only if it’s public or if you’re invited. If you’re non-Black, remember to de-center yourself and follow the lead of Black attendees of the celebration.
For more on Juneteenth celebrations across the U.S., we recommend the article “This Is How We Juneteenth” from the New York Times.