There aren’t many American holidays like Juneteenth.
Celebrated across the country on June 19th, the holiday honors the liberation of the last enslaved citizens in the United States. In 1865, two years following the Emancipation Proclamation, Union troops landed on Galveston, Texas. With them came the announcement of the end of the American Civil War and that those still held in bondage in the deep south were finally free.
Although Juneteenth has traditionally been a holiday celebrated in private and family gatherings, more and more communities have organized large public celebrations as it’s gained popularity over the years. Some cities have annual Juneteenth celebrations that started in the 1800s, while some started during the Civil Rights era, and others are just a few years old.
In 1980, Texas was the first state to recognize Juneteenth as a holiday. And in 2021, it was made an official federal holiday. Most Juneteenth celebrations feature parades, live music, family-friendly festivities, and highlight African American culture and history in some way.
Here are just some of the biggest Juneteenth celebrations across the United States:
The city of Houston traditionally offers plenty of events to honor this day. There’s an annual celebration at Emancipation Park, which was initially purchased by leaders in the African American community in 1872 as a place to celebrate Juneteenth, that includes live music, food, and family-friendly events, and draws thousands of attendees. Other parks throughout the Houston area also often host concerts and live music events throughout the Juneteenth weekend. More recent years have seen an expo for Black entrepreneurs to showcase their work and help visitors support Black-owned businesses, as well as a parade organized by the mayor’s office.
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The city of Atlanta gets into the action by going all out with an entire weekend devoted to celebrating Juneteenth. The events always kick off in earnest with a parade that begins at the heart of the city and travels to Centennial Olympic Park. Each year offers a different theme, highlighting the past while also looking forward to the future. The weekend also features activities such as a fireworks display, community yoga sessions, a 5k fun run, music demonstrations, and the opportunity to research your genealogy.
Since 2011, Denver’s annual Juneteenth Music Festival has been a high point of the city’s celebration. The location of this music festival varies each year but always offers live music, art displays, vendors, a cornucopia of food trucks, and more. Kids can enjoy the annual parade and street festival. While the people of Denver have been celebrating Juneteenth for decades, city officials finally recognized it as an official commemorative holiday in 2021.
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The city of Philadelphia’s Juneteenth celebration has grown from approximately 5,000 guests in 2016 to more than five times that participation in the last few years. The annual parade boasts over 2,000 participants and 20 floats. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolfe declared Juneteenth an official state holiday in 2019, setting the stage for a Juneteenth celebration that attracts lots of attendees arriving on cheap flights in June. Over the years, the celebration has included a parade and other fun activities such as a Freedom Day March and an art exhibit at Malcolm X Park. Be sure to also check out the African American Museum for a myriad of special events in commemoration of the Black experience.
It is no surprise to learn that Memphis leans all in for its Juneteenth celebrations. The Juneteenth Urban Music Festival at the Health Sciences Park is the central hub of activity. It is usually a three-day celebration offering a wide array of live music performances and speeches from community leaders. The Juneteenth Shop Black event features live music, food and drink, and the opportunity to support black-owned businesses.
The first publicly organized Juneteenth celebration in Milwaukee took place in 1971, and it’s since become one of the biggest Juneteenth celebrations in the country. Something that makes it unique from other celebrations is that Milwaukee’s Juneteenth celebration is always on June 19th and not just the weekend after. It tends to be a full-day event, with a parade down King Drive, a Miss Juneteenth Pageant, live music, and dance performances, exhibits, games, and more. and dance performances, exhibits, games, and more.
Know of any other major Juneteenth celebrations to include on this list? Tell us about them in the comments section below.