On June 19, 1865, more than two years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, with Union troops. They were there in the far western reaches of the former Confederacy to announce the end of the war and the end of slavery.
Juneteenth, named for the original month and date of the announcement, commemorates the day the last enslaved people in the United States were informed they were legally free. In 1980, Texas became the first U.S. state to recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday. More than 40 years later, and at least 28 states celebrate the holiday. Juneteenth even became a holiday recognized by the federal government—meaning banks are closed and there is no mail service—when President Joe Biden signed it into legislation in 2021.
But people have unofficially been celebrating Juneteenth for more than 150 years.
Why do people celebrate Juneteenth?
With assistance from the Freedman’s Bureau, the first Juneteenth festivities took place in Galveston in 1866, three years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, and it became an annual tradition in Texas. Juneteenth celebrations brought together families and friends for music, games, speeches, reflection, prayer, and food. Barbecue, tea cakes, and strawberry soda are among the traditional foods associated with the holiday. As Black Americans left Texas and made their lives elsewhere, they took their Juneteenth traditions with them and the holiday became more widespread.
Celebrating liberation on Juneteenth wasn’t easy, even though emancipation had become the law of the land. “When whites forbade Blacks from using their public spaces,” writes historian Henry Louis Gates, Jr., “Black people gathered near rivers and lakes and eventually raised enough money to buy their own celebration sites, among them Emancipation Park in Houston and Booker T. Washington Park in Mexia.”
Note that Juneteenth began as a holiday deeply rooted in Texas and folks with Texas connections; many Black communities elsewhere held their own local emancipation celebrations on different dates.
How to celebrate Juneteenth
As with any holiday, traditions evolve and vary based on the community in which it’s celebrated. In a typical year, cities across the country hold Juneteenth parades, pageants, music performances, and even book fairs. Reflection, education, and political activism continue to be integral in much Juneteenth programming.
Here are some festivities around the country that celebrate Juneteenth.
1. Galveston’s Juneteenth Celebrations
- When: June 17–19, 2023
- 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.
In 2023, Galveston’s Juneteenth includes plenty of events this weekend. One of them is the Juneteenth Parade on the 17th, which will immediately be followed by a picnic at Wright Cuney Park. Galveston’s Juneteenth Festival takes place on the 17th, located in Menard Park by the Seawall.
The city’s Reedy Chapel— established in 1848 as an African American church for enslaved people—is also paying homage to its history with a block party on the 19th, which includes reenactments of the first Juneteenth festivities.
2. Chicago’s Juneteenth Community BBQ
- When: June 19, 2023
- Where: Chicago, Illinois
- Cost: Free
- Get Tickets: Juneteenth Community BBQ
This marks the third consecutive year the DuSable Black History Museum and Education Center is holding a Juneteenth Community BBQ. The event, scheduled for June 19, will feature food, giveaways, and even a petting zoo. In honor of the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, the museum is also going to host a discussion session with rapper Kool Moe Dee.
By no means is the Juneteenth Community BBQ the only celebration in the city—there are plenty of other events in Chicago to check out for the holiday.
3. Houston’s Emancipation Park Juneteenth Celebration
- When: June 17, 2023
- Where: Houston, Texas
- Cost: Free
- Get Tickets: Juneteenth Music Festival
If you’re ready to jam out 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.
On June 17, the park is celebrating with a morning Freedom Walk and Run in addition to musical performances throughout the day. This year, the lineup includes gospel and R&B artists like V Michael McKay, Lakeside, and The SOS Band.
4. Sacramento Juneteenth Festival
- When: June 16–18, 2023
- Where: Sacramento, California
- Cost: Free
- Get Tickets: Sacramento Juneteenth Festival
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Sacramento Juneteenth Festival, which takes place outdoors June 16–18 at William Land Park. In addition to local performers, art showcases, and food vendors, the event will host guest speakers and Black Business Awards presentations.
Sonya Bradley, Visit Sacramento’s chief of diversity, equity, and inclusion, hopes Sacramento’s Juneteenth Festival helps more people recognize the historic contributions African Americans have made on the West Coast. “You hear more about it on the East Coast and the South,” Bradley says. “But there was quite a bit that we helped build on the West Coast. There were a lot of firsts out here too.”
5. Washington, D.C.’s Juneteenth Freedom Festival
- When: June 15–17, 2023
- Where: Washington, D.C.
- Cost: Most events are free; Juneteenth Honors tickets range from $150 to $300
- Get Tickets: Juneteenth Freedom Festival
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.
In 2023, nonprofit the Juneteenth Foundation is hosting a Juneteenth Freedom Festival from June 15 to 17. The three-day affair kicks off with its Juneteenth Honors awards and music show (Grammy award–winning artists Ashanti and Ja Rule are said to be making an appearance) on the 15th. The next day, a Bike and Book giveaway will take place in Franklin Park. June 17th wraps up the celebrations with a career fair in the morning at the Conrad Hotel, followed by the Freedom Festival Community Block Party in Franklin Square Park from 5 to 9 p.m.
6. New York City’s Juneteenth NY
- When: June 16–18, 2023
- Where: New York City
- Cost: Most events are free; Celebration of Black Kings ceremony tickets start at $89
- Get Tickets: Juneteenth NY
Nonprofit Juneteenth NYC is hosting its 14th annual Juneteenth celebration from June 16 to 18 this year with the theme “A Kaleidoscope of Black Culture.” The three-day event starts on Friday with a virtual summit. That night, a “Celebration of Black Kings” dinner event will be held to honor 28 male leaders who have significantly impacted the community.
More than 60 vendors will be in Linden/Gershwin Park the following day for an all-day occasion. The 18th is also dedicated to festivity, with a grand finale concert, parade, and fashion show among the events planned in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. This annual event draws thousands—the organization estimates around 15,000 people came in 2022 and is predicting more than 25,000 attendees this year.
Other ways to celebrate Juneteenth
Of course, these aren’t the only Juneteenth celebrations taking place in the United States in 2023. To find one near you, consult your city’s tourism website for local events. Should you choose to celebrate at home, several destinations are offering virtual programming, or you can support with your dollars by shopping Black-owned brands.