Tonya Russell
Updated Jun 19, 2020 @ 8:28 am
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It’s 2020, and it’s about time we acknowledge that July 4th isn’t the only important independence holiday. On June 19th, 1865, almost 100 years after the nation gained its independence from Great Britain, enslaved people in Texas were finally free—this event is called Juneteenth. This was two and a half years after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, which would free enslaved people in the Union States—but without a saturation of Union soldiers, the law was unenforceable in Texas and other confederate states. Eventually, Major General Gordon Granger of the Union army arrived in Galveston, Texas, to inform enslaved people that they were free.

However, most states did not acknowledge Juneteenth until after 2000 with Texas being the first in 1980. Today, 47 out of 50 states consider it a holiday and as of 2020, New York (and soon Virginia) will observe Juneteenth as a paid holiday. But freed enslaved people have been observing Juneteenth since 1866 (the first anniversary of General Granger’s visit to Texas) and establishing traditions that have been carried on by descendants of enslaved people.

If you want to honor this day with your loved ones, here are eight ways to celebrate Juneteenth, including old traditions and socially-distanced activities.

1 Host a virtual family reunion.

One of the best ways you can honor this day is by connecting with family to celebrate love and freedom. But if social distancing is preventing a traditional family gathering, host a Zoom function instead. For instance, the NAACP is hosting a virtual family reunion. The event is open to anyone, and you can sign up on the NAACP’s site.

2 Eat traditional red foods.

Strawberry soda, hibiscus tea, and red velvet cake are traditionally served at Juneteenth celebrations. The color red commemorates the blood that was shed during slavery. Historically, when families celebrated Juneteenth, they would bring and eat foods they considered of high quality and not always available at that time, including meats like lamb, pork, and beef.

3 Learn about Black history.

This doesn’t have to be trauma-based films like 12 Years a Slave or Birth of a Nation. Instead, your family can watch educational and uplifting movies that show the hurdles that Black Americans have faced, and how they’ve had to overcome them. A few good films include 13th, The Banker, Something the Lord Made, and the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. For smaller children, you can teach them about race through reading books.

4Visit a museum from home.

The Smithsonians’ National Museum of African American Culture and History has a virtual exhibit dedicated to Juneteenth. Maryland’s Academy Art Museum is also hosting an event on June 19th and 20th, as is Philadelphia’s African American Museum, which will host a virtual festival on the 20th.

5Support Black-owned businesses.

Entrepreneur Cynthia Daniels from Memphis, Tennessee, has organized a shopping event, which highlights Black creators that you can attend. After making a purchase, share your receipt on the website My Black Receipt to join the #MyBlackReceipt movement. The site is hoping to help Black businesses earn 15 million dollars by July 4th. As they stated on the website, think of this as a petition to support more Black-owned businesses—but your signature is a receipt!

6Attend a parade.

Many towns are still holding parades on June 19th, including New York. The International Association of Blacks in Dance will be marching on City Hall, advocating for the Andrew Kearse Act. This bill would hold police officers responsible for not providing medical care for people in custody. Check your local city’s website to see if they’re holding any Juneteenth events, and make sure to wear protective gear while attending these parades.

7Raise money through dance.

Find a danceathon, like this one hosted by Philadelphia area Dance Fit studio. On June 27th, Grown Women Dance Collective will also host a free virtual dance concert on Facebook.

8Attend a poetry reading.

If you can’t find a virtual event held near you, attend the one featuring Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Yusef Komunyakaa. His work Neon Vernacular: New and Selected Poems details his upbringing in the South, Black resilience in the face of white supremacy, as well as the Vietnam War. It’s being hosted by Stockton University. Find more info here.

The momentum of the current Black Lives Matter movement and protests are making headway for equality. We hope that the reforms that are coming out of these protests, including celebrating the nation’s second Independence Day, will be here to stay. After all, this isn’t just Black history, but every American’s history.