3 Ways to Celebrate Juneteenth

By: Nicole Fernandez

May 31, 2022

Category: Celebration

Three Rivers will be celebrating Juneteenth at Silverwood Park on Sunday, June 19, 2022. The 19th of June is a day to honor the great history of African Americans. Juneteenth National Independence Day, also known as Freedom Day, is a U.S. holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. It is observed annually on June 19, and is a day of remembrance and celebration of African Americans.

When was Juneteenth first celebrated?

This year will be the second year it is officially recognized as a national holiday, but it has been celebrated for more than a century.

In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring millions of slaves living in the Confederate states to be free. But residents in Texas wouldn’t hear the news for two more years. On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, announcing that slavery had been abolished. Hearing the news, the former slaves began to celebrate by singing spirituals, dancing, feasting and praying.

The following year, Texas had its first official Juneteenth celebration. People gathered together to pray and sing, wearing new clothes to represent newfound freedom. Gradually, the annual celebration spread to neighboring states and beyond. Celebrations typically included prayer and religious services, family gatherings, festivals, speeches, and —like at the very first celebration — music, food and dancing.

In 1980, Texas made Juneteenth a state holiday, and in 2021, Juneteenth was made a federal holiday in the United States.

What are some ways to celebrate?

In my family, we have celebrated Juneteenth for many years similarly to a family reunion, except it is extended to larger communities. Neighbors would gather in large parks to share meals, play games, have talent shows and spend time with elders who would share stories of the past. It would not be uncommon to hear the specific journeys that families took and how they arrived in a particular region of the country, some through their careers or because of land ownership or an invitation by a family member to work for their business. Juneteenth gatherings are all-encompassing of the community, fraternal and recreation organizations that spearheaded social change and opportunities for growth and development.

A group of people pose for a photo with arms around each other. One rides a bike.
A group of people celebrating Juneteenth at Fish Lake in 2021.

Here are some ideas for you to celebrate this year:

1. Take time for historical reflection.

Juneteenth is a time for reflection; the Ghanaian principle and symbol of the Sankofa bird means, "Go back to the past and bring forward that which is useful." It reminds us to look back over our history to be informed and prepared for the future. Learn about the events leading up to Juneteenth by checking out some books from the library or watching videos. Many museums, including the Minnesota Historical Society or the Smithsonian, have resources online to help you find out more.

2. Enjoy food and drink.

Invite friends, family and neighbors to share their favorite family recipes, or, more importantly, make and bring their prize-winning dishes to the table for you to try. Host a contest for the best: peach cobbler, collard greens, potato salad or coconut cake. This competition usually brings everyone together just to taste the winning dish.

3. Join a local celebration.

Check out event listings in your city and those nearby to see what’s planned. Seek out opportunities to hear poetry or live music in-person—and don’t forget to dance! Many communities will host Juneteenth events to celebrate our diverse heritage and contributions, and look toward the new milestones that will be reached by future generations. Juneteenth is about celebrating family while honoring our history and resilience in this nation.

Join us at Silverwood Park from 3–7 PM on Sunday, June 19, 2022. This year’s theme is Hope, Promise, Future: Celebrating the legacy of African Americans and looking to the promise of a bright future. Listen to live music, participate in the open mic poetry and spoken word hour, enjoy free canoe rides and games, check out community vendors and more! 

About the Author

Nicole Fernandez smiles at the camera.

Nicole finds peace and healing in nature — whether she is taking a walk on a trail or photographing lakes and sunsets — and she strives to share that with others as a cultural liaison at Three Rivers. Nicole has previous work experience at nonprofit organizations focusing on education, youth development and community relations. She has also helped spearhead community and demographic information projects to promote cultural value and awareness. Nicole enjoys using her expertise to serve members of the Three Rivers community and create partnerships with faith-based, underrepresented and education communities.


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