Published June 4, 2021, by Frank Gerjevic
On June 19, 2021, Juneteenth Anchorage will mark the 1865 day in Galveston, Texas, when word finally reached those who had been slaves that their bondage had been declared over more than two years before with the Emancipation Proclamation of President Abraham Lincoln.
Juneteenth, also known as Emancipation Day, Jubilee Day, Freedom Day, or Juneteenth Independence Day, commemorates the end of slavery in the United States.
As the Juneteenth Anchorage flyer proclaims, the day is one to celebrate, educate, unify and advocate. The celebration includes food, music, vendors and is free to attend from 1 p.m. – 6 p.m. on the 19th at the Northway Mall. United Way of Anchorage will be on hand with information about Alaska 2-1-1, our community advancement work, and job opportunities (and we’ll have some swag too!).
Juneteenth in Anchorage is much more than a single day, however, with a month full of events, concerts, exhibits, and panel discussions about black lives in Alaska. Check out the calendar here.
And in the spirit of the flyer’s call to educate, here’s a brief, primer history about Juneteenth:
In 1863, during the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared more than three million slaves living in the Confederate states to be free. More than two years would pass, however, before the news reached African Americans living in Texas. It was not until Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865 – two months after the Confederate surrender in Virginia — that the state’s residents finally learned that slavery had been abolished. The former slaves immediately began to celebrate with prayer, feasting, song, and dance.
The following year, on June 19, the first official Juneteenth celebrations took place in Texas. The original observances included prayer meetings and the singing of spirituals, and celebrants wore new clothes as a way of representing their newfound freedom. Within a few years, African Americans in other states were celebrating the day as well, making it an annual tradition. Celebrations have continued across the United States into the 21st century and typically include prayer and religious services, speeches, educational events, family gatherings and picnics, and festivals with music, food, and dancing.
Texas was the first state to recognize Juneteenth as a holiday, in 1980. Today 47 states and the District of Columbia recognize the day as a state or ceremonial holiday. Bills are pending in both the U.S. House and Senate to make Juneteenth a national holiday.