Learn About and Celebrate Juneteenth

Published on June 15, 2022 | Last updated on June 08, 2023 by Beatrice Alvarez

Juneteenth celebrations have widely expanded across the country since the day became a national holiday in 2021, when the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act was signed into law. Many more people than before know a little bit about the holiday, its history, and ongoing significance. For anyone looking to learn more, you came to right place.

Below are some programs that tell the history of Juneteenth and others that show the joy of communities coming together in celebrations of independence.

What is Juneteenth?

The holiday's origin story begins in Galveston, Texas, which was the western-most area of the Union in 1865. When enslaved people there were told of their emancipation on June 19, 1865, they had technically already been freed two-and-a-half years prior, when President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. Slaveholders in Texas had kept the information to themselves, extending the period of violent exploitation of enslaved African Americans. The following year, in 1866, a celebration was had in Texas, the first Juneteenth observance to recognize freedom from slavery in the U.S.

When is Juneteenth?

Juneteenth is celebrated annually on June 19th. The holiday's name is a combination of the words "June" and "nineteenth." It commemorates the day news of the Emancipation Proclamation (and their subsequent freedom from chattel slavery) reached enslaved people in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865, three years after President Abraham Lincoln had issued the proclamation.

It is considered the longest-running holiday in African American and Black communities, and was often observed with community celebrations on the third Saturday in June. Juneteenth became a federal holiday in 2021 after the U.S. Congress passed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act

Our friends at PBS KIDS for Parents have shared some great ideas if you're looking for ways to celebrate Juneteenth with your family.

“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. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”
General Orders, Number 3; Headquarters District of Texas, Galveston June 19, 1865

Further Reading

Dr. Henry Louis Gates gave us a comprehensive history of Juneteenth as part of the series: The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross. Explore the timeline and his own insights on the importance of the holiday.

Meaning and history of the Juneteenth flag

The flag we see today is the work of artist Lisa Jeanne Graf, who modified the original Juneteenth flag created in 1997 by Ben Haith, the founder of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation (NJOF).

The Juneteenth flag is red, white, and blue. We see the same colors as the USA flag to acknowledge that formerly enslaved people and their descendants are Americans. There is an arc across the flag, symbolizing a new horizon and hope for the future. The star at the flag’s center is a nod to Texas, the Lone Star State, where Juneteenth was first celebrated. The burst outlining the star suggests a new star, a new beginning. The date of the first Juneteenth (June 19, 1865) is often added to the flag, as well.

Juneteenth flag

Juneteenth Jamboree | Austin PBS

Texas (and much of the U.S.) commemorates Emancipation Day as Juneteenth. This series delves into the history of the holiday, and celebrates black culture and art.

See past Juneteenth Jamboree films from Austin PBS.

More Juneteenth documentaries to stream

Our friends (you know, like local PBS stations and documentary producers) always, we mean always, have great collections of films to offer.

In commemoration of Juneteenth, and to honor Black history, freedom and achievement, WORLD Channel invites you to stream films that champion Black stories, rights and the continuing fight for equality.

You can watch even more programs and documentaries that explore the Black experience in the U.S. in our Honoring Juneteenth playlist - now streaming on the PBS app.

Juneteenth | Say It Loud

Learn the origin of Juneteenth and look at the parallels of Black liberation work around Reconstruction and Black liberation work, today. This episode focuses on 3 areas of “Fine Print”: Voter Suppression, Mass Incarceration, and Policing with a special highlight on the work of leaders pushing for change in these areas.

Slavery by Another Name

Slavery by Another Name is a 90-minute documentary that challenges one of Americans’ most cherished assumptions: the belief that slavery in this country ended with the Emancipation Proclamation. The film tells how even as chattel slavery came to an end in the South in 1865, thousands of African Americans were pulled back into forced labor with shocking force and brutality.

Highlights from previous years' Juneteenth documentaries

Here's what we shared on Juneteenth, 2021:

This year, many communities either learned about Juneteenth for the first time or gathered cautiously as the COVID-19 pandemic continued into its second year. Here are some of the local programs that highlight Black voices across the country in celebration of Juneteenth.

From PBS 39Juneteenth Lehigh Valley, PBS 39's coverage of their community celebration.

From PBS North Carolina's Black Issues Forum: Juneteenth episode in which Moses Greene of the North Carolina Museum of Art talks about increasing visitor diversity at the museum.

From GBH's Basic Black: a Juneteenth episode featuring guests: Annette Gordon-Reed, Harvard Univ. and author of, “On Juneteenth,” L’Merchie Frazier, MAAH museum, Dr. Kellie Carter Jackson, Wellesley College, Imari Paris Jeffries, King Boston..

From WQPT in Moline, Illinois: Juneteenth: A Celebration was inspired by the the Friends of MLK Juneteenth Quad Cities Committee.

From Iowa PBS:

This program features an array of musical performances, including the worldwide premiere of “Bluebird,” a new song by The Finesse and an exclusive performance from the Isiserettes.

KQED in San Francisco, California has photos from Berkeley's Juneteenth festival. It has been held annually since 1986 (save once in 2008) and has come to commemorate not only black history and traditions, but also the preservation of community in light of increasing displacement.

Berkeley Juneteenth 2019
Members of the SambaFunk! collective dance and drum during the 2019 Berkeley Juneteenth Festival | Credit: Photo by Liliana Michelena/KQED

From Milwaukee PBS' Black Nouveau: Black Nouveau visits Milwaukee's 48th Juneteenth Celebration. We capture events from the Parade, talk with vendors and attendees about the event.