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Juneteenth: The day when Black Americans celebrate freedom


Dancing at a Juneteenth celebration in Oklahoma. (Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)

Juneteenth is the word that you get when you combine the words "June" and "nineteenth." But why would anyone want to do that?

In the United States, the 19th day in June is important because of something that happened all the way back in the year 1865.

A dark history

From 1800: Slaves picking cotton on a plantation.

Around 1800: enslaved people working in a cotton field. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

From the 1500s to the 1800s, Black people were enslaved (which means forcing someone to lose their freedom). They were taken from the west coast of Africa to different parts of the world, including the United States, the Caribbean, South America and Canada.

Being enslaved meant that they were forced to do difficult work without pay, and had their names, religion and language taken away from them.

They were also punished if and when they tried to change how they were being treated. But they still tried and historians say there were over 250 times that enslaved people fought to be free.

On June 19, 1865, in Galveston, Texas, soldiers announced that America’s civil war had ended. Enslaved African-Americans were free!

From that moment on, June 19th, or Juneteenth, would be known as a special day.

Celebrating Juneteenth

Mother and daughter at a craft station at a Juneteenth celebration in Oklahoma

A craft station at a Juneteenth celebration. (Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)

In the United States, Juneteenth celebrations usually include:

  • prayers and religious services
  • family gatherings and picnics
  • speeches
  • educational events
  • festivals with lots of music, dancing and food

It is a day when Black Americans think about their history and show pride in their culture.

In Canada, a celebration called Emancipation Day, which is just like Juneteenth, happens on August 1. It's also celebrated in many Caribbean islands, where it happens on the first Monday in August.

Find out more about Emancipation Day's history and importance.

On the island of Bermuda, Emancipation Day is celebrated at the end of July. People in the Caribbean go to parades, listen to speeches and get together with family and friends on this day.

In Canada, people go to the Caribbean Carnival (known before as Caribana), or go to parks and auditoriums to listen to African drumming, singing, poetry and speeches about unity and respect for all people.

How do you celebrate Caribbean Carnival in a pandemic? You go online! Read how it was celebrated virtually last year.

Let’s think about it

two kids sitting on pavement beside a chalk drawing that reads

Kids with chalk street art at a Juneteenth celebration. (Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)

On Juneteenth, people take the time to pay respect and think about what happened when these people were enslaved. 

Take some time to think about it. What has changed? What changes can still be made? What can you do in your own life to help make these changes?

Juneteenth is a time for people of all backgrounds to commit to treating each other fairly. What can you do to help to make sure that everyone is treated with respect?