Celebrate Juneteenth

Happy Juneteenth from your Grand Rapids Chamber! Today we join the rest of the country in a day of jubilation to celebrate the end of slavery in America.

On June 19th, 1865, enslaved African Americans in Texas received the news of the Emancipation Proclamation declaring freedom for all. June 19th, 1865, represents a monumental shift in American history. As a result, this date became one of great significance.

We celebrate Juneteenth to remember the strides of progress that have been made to gain the freedoms and rights we have today. Read more here.


The History of Juneteenth

Slavery in the United States reached the beginning of its end with the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1st, 1863, but was not enforced in many states that were formerly under confederate control or in border states. On June 19th, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger and his troops arrived in Galveston, Texas proclaiming: 

“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. 

It is important to note that the process of abolition of slavery in the United States was not an even one. Even after African Americans in Texas were officially granted their freedom, there was resistance from enslavers. Additionally, enslaved people in the border states (learn more about those states here) had not yet had their freedom recognized. Even after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, many abolitionists called for a constitutional amendment that would help to enforce the freedom of enslaved people throughout the country. It was not until the 13th Amendment was officially ratified on December 6th, 1865, that chattel slavery in the United States was formally abolished. 

During the following year, on June 19th, 1866, the first ever Juneteenth celebration was held in Texas. Since emancipation was implemented at different times for different regions, early celebrations to mark the end of slavery took place on various significant dates. Texas’s celebration soon became (and is today) the most widely celebrated day acknowledging the end of slavery in the United States. While the many in the African American community have celebrated Juneteenth for generations, Juneteenth became a federal holiday (in large part due to the work of Opal Lee, “The Grandmother of Juneteenth”) very recently in 2021. Known by names such as Freedom Day, and Jubilee Day—June 19th marks a time of celebration, reflection, and the commemoration of the start of the journey to independence and prosperity for Black Americans. 


Learn More

• Video – Tedx-Ed – What is Juneteenth, and why is it important?
• Article NPR – What is Juneteenth?
• Video – Henry Louis Gates Jr. on the significance and history of Juneteenth
• Article History.Com – Slavery Didn’t End on Juneteenth. What You Should Know About this Important Day
• Resource list from the National Museum of African American History – Juneteenth – Senses of Freedom: Exploring the Tastes, Sounds and Experiences of an African American Celebration
• Article – The Surprisingly Progressive Promises of General Order No. 3, Which Ended Slavery in Texas
• Video – “Grandmother of Juneteenth” Opal Lee reflects on her journey to secure a national holiday
• Article – One Woman’s Decades-Long Fight To Make Juneteenth A U.S. Holiday
• Article – Emancipation Proclamation and 13th Amendment
• Article – The Border States


Ways to Celebrate Locally

Our friends at Experience GR have complied a list of many of the celebrations taking place in the city over the weekend to celebrate Juneteeth, as well as ways to celebrate the meaning of Juneteenth year-round. These celebrations include festivals, pop up shops, educational events and more!  

Check out this article from M Live on more ways to celebrate in Grand Rapids.  


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