The History of Juneteenth and 5 Festivals That Commemorate Its Legacy

Why, where, and how people observe this important event.

The History of Juneteenth and 5 Festivals That Commemorate Its Legacy

Juneteenth is rooted in Texas and is still celebrated throughout the state.

Courtesy of Visit Galveston

Juneteenth has only been a federally recognized holiday since last year, but people have been observing it for more than 150 years. The celebration dates back to June 19, 1865, when enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Texas, were informed they were free--more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

Over the past century, the annual celebration has spread, with Texas becoming the first state to make Juneteenth an official holiday in 1980. Today, Juneteenth (also known as Emancipation Day and Freedom Day) is a staple across the country, complete with food, dancing, and community events.

Whether you want to celebrate Juneteenth through a historical or artistic lens, these five celebrations share the story of Black history in their own, unique way.

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More than 100 years ago, Juneteenth started in Galveston.

Photo by Cire notrevo/Shutterstock

1. Galveston’s Juneteenth Celebrations

When: June 18-20

Where: Galveston, Texas

Cost: Free

Learn More: Galveston’s Juneteenth Celebrations

What better place to celebrate Juneteenth than where it all began? In 1866, the island city’s first iteration of the celebration took place, and it has continued to be a part of historical tradition since.

This year, Galveston’s Juneteenth festivities include plenty of events throughout the weekend, including the Juneteenth Parade on the 18th, complete with floats and marching band performances. At night, the celebration moves to the coastline for the Galveston Island Juneteenth Festival. This free event will feature food vendors, a Black artist exhibition, and live entertainment from performers like the Galveston Heritage Chorale. Galveston’s Reedy Chapel--which was established in 1848 as an African American church for enslaved people--is also paying homage to its history with an Emancipation March on the 19th, which reenacts the first Juneteenth festivities.

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Witness musical legends like the Isley Brothers and Kool and the Gang in Houston.

Photo by Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

2. Houston’s Emancipation Park Juneteenth Celebration

When: June 18-19

Where: Houston, Texas

Cost: Free

Get Tickets: Emancipation Park Juneteenth Celebration Tickets

If you’re ready to get down on it this Juneteenth, drive 50 miles from Galveston to Houston for Emancipation Park’s Juneteenth festival. As the closest city to Galveston, Houston is also deeply entrenched in Juneteenth history--take the city’s Emancipation Park, which was founded in 1872 by local freedmen as a place to host Juneteenth celebrations. From June 18 to 19, the park is celebrating its 150th anniversary with a festival complete with a screening of a Juneteenth documentary, speaker panels addressing issues like health care and education in relation to the Black experience, and performances by musicians like the Isley Brothers and Kool and the Gang.

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This Juneteenth, history will be made in the Hollywood Bowl.

Photo by Christian Horz/Shutterstock

3. Juneteenth: A Global Celebration of Freedom

When: June 19

Where: Los Angeles, California

Cost: $20 - $115

Get Tickets: Juneteenth: A Global Celebration of Freedom

There’s plenty of celebration in the Los Angeles area this weekend for Juneteenth. While you can experience musical performances from artists like Grammy award-winning jazz singer Dee Dee Bridgewater at Santa Monica’s 30th annual Juneteenth celebration or drive to Westchester for the Juneteenth x L.A. Black History Festival, there are also many downtown events like “Thank You Very Much: A Juneteenth Comedy Show”, which features comedians like Chris Spencer (Black-ish) and Chinedu Unaka (Insecure).

One event to look out for is the celebration at the Hollywood Bowl on June 19. This star-studded event spans genres, including jazz, gospel, hip-hop, soul, and R&B, and features performances by artists like Earth, Wind & Fire, Jhené Aiko, and Khalid. This is also where the Re-Collective Orchestra will perform--marking the first time an all-Black symphony orchestra performs onstage in the Hollywood Bowl’s 100-year history.

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Come to Boston for a Juneteenth aimed at empowering the community.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash

4. King Boston’s Nubian Square Juneteenth Celebration

When: June 17, 2022

Where: Boston, Massachusetts

Cost: Free

Get Tickets: King Boston’s Nubian Square Juneteenth Celebration

If you want to take an educational route this Juneteenth, visit Boston, the place Martin Luther King Jr. considered his second home. (Boston was where he met his wife and where he completed his Ph.D.) This week, nonprofit King Boston is hosting the Embrace Ideas Festival, an event dedicated to amplifying antiracism and a vision for a more equitable Boston. Speakers at the festival tackle topics like the power of monuments, equity within a community, and upending the zero-sum game mentality when it comes to race and racism.

On Friday, the Embrace Ideas festival wraps up with a Juneteenth block party in Nubian Square from 3 to 9 p.m. This free celebration features locally sourced talent like DJ Slick Vick and Bill Banfield’s Imagine Orchestra alongside food provided by BIPOC-owned food trucks in the area.

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The Martin Luther King Jr. memorial is a must-see landmark when in D.C.

Photo by TJ Brown/Shutterstock

5. Reframing the Narrative at the Kennedy Center

When: June 14-19

Where: Washington, D.C.

Cost: $29 – $119

Get tickets: Reframing the Narrative

Washington, D.C. is a city closely tied to Black history--visit monuments like the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial or the National Museum of African American History and Culture to sample the richness found in the nation’s capital. You can enjoy D.C.’s intimate connection with U.S. history from June 18 to 20, when the National Archives will display the original Emancipation Proclamation document. But there’s something for more artistically inclined people too: June 14-19, the Kennedy Center is hosting its Reframing the Narrative program, showcasing the artistry of Black ballet with performances by the Dance Theatre of Harlem, Ballethnic Dance Company, Collage Dance Collective, and other dancers from across the country.

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Chloe Arrojado is the associate editor of destinations at AFAR. She’s a big fan of cafés, dancing, and asking people on the street for restaurant recommendations.
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