Juneteenth: A Celebration of Freedom and Equality


Written in collaboration with, and with thanks to, Dr. Latasha Casterlow-Lalla, Supervisor of Visual & Performing Arts Passaic Public Schools and a Clifton resident.


Juneteenth, also known as Emancipation Day or Freedom Day, is a significant holiday celebrated annually on June 19th in the United States. The name is a combination of the words June and nineteenth and commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans. This holiday serves as a symbol of freedom, progress, and unity. It holds historical significance and provides an opportunity to reflect on the struggles endured by African Americans in their pursuit of equality and social justice.

Juneteenth finds its roots in Galveston, Texas, where on June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger arrived to proclaim freedom for enslaved people. This announcement came more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation had been issued, as news of the proclamation had been delayed and actively suppressed in Texas. Juneteenth thus became a day of jubilation, marking the end of slavery and the beginning of a new chapter in the lives of African Americans. Some compare the holiday to Independence Day, as it marks the freeing of the last enslaved African Americans.

“Juneteenth should be celebrated by everyone. I feel like it demonstrates how we as Americans, have taken steps in the right direction toward the idea of equality. All Americans should be able to recognize this. Honestly, I see it sort of as parallel to July 4th because the freedom of Americans is still being celebrated,” said Clifton High School Junior Deborah.

The holiday is not only a celebration of the end of slavery but also serves as a reminder of the ongoing struggle for equality and justice. It is a time to honor the resilience, strength, legacy, and contributions of African Americans to the fabric of American society. Juneteenth stands as a powerful symbol of freedom, hope, and the unwavering spirit of a people who have overcome tremendous adversity throughout the history of this nation.

Celebrations for this holiday vary across different communities but often include a range of activities and events. These can include parades, concerts, art exhibitions, family gatherings, picnics, and educational programs. Traditional African rhythms, gospel, jazz, blues, R&B, hip-hop, and Jersey House music fill the air, capturing the spirit of resilience that emerged from the African American experience. Various artistic exhibitions serve as powerful platforms for artists to express their creativity and convey the African American experience through different mediums.

These gatherings foster a sense of togetherness, celebrate achievements, and highlight African American cultural contributions in every aspect of our popular culture. Many Juneteenth events incorporate educational elements such as historical reenactments, lectures, and storytelling. These activities help to preserve the memory of the struggle for emancipation, bring awareness to the ongoing challenges of African Americans in today’s society, and educate younger generations to develop pride in their heritage.

While Juneteenth has long been celebrated within African American communities, its recognition and observance have gained broader acceptance in recent years. Efforts to make Juneteenth a nationally recognized holiday gained momentum thanks to activists like Opal Lee, who some refer to as "The Grandmother of Juneteenth." Finally, on June 17, 2021, it was signed into law as a federal holiday in the United States. This official recognition has brought increased awareness and understanding of Juneteenth's historical importance. Educational institutions, museums, and cultural organizations have embraced Juneteenth as an opportunity to educate the public about the history of slavery, the contributions of African Americans, and the continuing fight against racial injustice.

Juneteenth provides a platform for these institutions to engage in meaningful dialogue and promote understanding. CHS Junior Jada thinks that in Clifton, there is still work to be done. “Juneteenth has been a thing for a while…but it seems so new still and a lot of people don’t know about it. Schools definitely need to do a better job [of] teaching it.” 

Juneteenth serves as an opportunity for individuals and communities to reflect on the progress made in the fight against systemic racism and discrimination, as well as the work that remains to be done. It encourages dialogue, education, and action to address the injustices that persist in society. Through celebrating Juneteenth, individuals, families, and communities can engage in meaningful conversations, promote unity, and advocate for equality. 

Clifton resident and Director of Equity Initiatives at NYU Steinhardt Maria Williamson Ramirez put together a list of resources for the NYU community and graciously shared them with The Clifton Times. THIS VIDEO features National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) Oral History Specialist Kelly Navies, who speaks about the history of Juneteenth. This DIGITAL TOOLKIT includes a Juneteenth reading list, some recipes, imagery, educational videos, and other resources.

I'm interested
I disagree with this
This is unverified