5 Ways to Celebrate Juneteenth on Your College Campus

Juneteenth, our newest federal holiday, honors Black history. Discover five ways you can celebrate this important holiday in Black American culture.

portrait of Vanesha McGee, M.Ed.
by Vanesha McGee, M.Ed.

Updated June 14, 2022

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5 Ways to Celebrate Juneteenth on Your College Campus
Image Credit: Tim Robberts / DigitalVision / Getty Images


What Is Juneteenth?

Observed on June 19, Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. Recently honored as a federal holiday, Juneteenth holds special significance for Black Americans. The holiday is also known as Juneteenth National Independence Day, Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Liberation Day, and Emancipation Day.

Despite the 1863 signing of the Emancipation Proclamation — theoretically freeing all enslaved people — enslavers continued to practice slavery in and around Galveston, Texas. On June 19, 1865, Union troops arrived in the city. They enforced the law of the land, ensuring that all enslaved people were freed.

Dr. Donna A. Patterson, a professor of history, political science, and philosophy at Delaware State University, shares an important takeaway about Juneteenth for students. After being freed in 1865, "former slaves began the celebration, and it carried on for over a century by their descendants in Texas, other parts of the United States, and in select global celebrations."

In the years that followed, formerly enslaved people celebrated Juneteenth by delivering inspirational speeches, singing songs of hope and praise, honoring Black culture and food, and gathering with family and friends.

We continue to celebrate Juneteenth as a symbolic day of independence.

Juneteenth's Role on College Campuses

Juneteenth serves as a reminder of the systemic barriers that continue to impede the progress and liberation of Black Americans.

Dr. Marlin Barber, senior history instructor at Missouri State University, says that "it is important for students (and everyone else) to understand that Juneteenth is about more than celebrating the end of enslavement in the United States. It's an acknowledgement that the Black experience in America is unique and different from the experiences of others in the country."

As colleges confront their racist legacies and incidents of racial discrimination and anti-Blackness continue on campuses nationwide, institutions of higher education can play an active role in celebrating Juneteenth's message of equity.

Despite the importance of this holiday, conventional teachings of U.S. history rarely teach or mention Juneteenth. This can present as a devaluation of Black history, particularly among college students.

Colleges and universities play a critical role in expanding students' social consciousness. Broadening the scope of education for future generations requires acknowledging the racial and social injustices of the past and present.

Celebrating Juneteenth means promoting equity, teaching Black history and culture, and supporting Black businesses and social causes. With these celebrations, colleges can uplift Black students and Black communities and acknowledge the impacts of U.S. history.

In Texas and elsewhere, most Juneteenth celebrations have often been public community events and not university-centered. However, in the past two years, some U.S. colleges and universities have acknowledged Juneteenth through programming and paid holidays for summer staff. I expect that these programs and holidays will grow as Juneteenth is now a federal holiday.

— Dr. Donna A. Patterson, Professor and Chair of the Department of History, Political Science, and Philosophy, Deleware State University

Why Colleges and Students Should Celebrate Juneteenth

Educational leaders boldly announce efforts and initiatives to dismantle racism. Colleges and universities make commitments to build and sustain campus cultures of anti-racism. At the same time, increasing numbers of college students demand social change for Black Americans and other historically excluded groups.

I think if students (or anyone) are open about their limited understanding of Juneteenth, even if they ask awkward questions, they will be welcomed. However, people do need to realize and understand that this celebration is something that is facilitated by Black Americans. It's a celebration for all, but the narrative and celebrations are set by Black people because the story is central to their past in America.

— Dr. Marlin Barber, senior history instructor at Missouri State University.

College leaders must go beyond verbal disapproval of discrimination. They must actively work to eradicate anti-Blackness, uplift true histories of historically excluded students, and dismantle racism and discrimination on campus.

Celebrating Juneteenth acknowledges the importance of taking action to uplift Black history, Black students, and Black cultures.

5 Ways to Celebrate Juneteenth in College

A variety of celebrations honor the federal holiday of Juneteenth. As Patterson shares, "Students can respectfully celebrate Juneteenth by honoring the historic, sacred origins of the holiday."

She goes on to say that "while Juneteenth observances are meant to be celebratory, students might also think about ways to continue to strive for full equality for Black Americans and all U.S. citizens."

Check out these five ideas for engaging in Juneteenth festivities.

1. Attend Local Juneteenth Celebratory Events

As a federal holiday, Juneteenth celebrations are widespread. Local events often include parades, restaurant showcases, exhibits by Black-owned businesses, and artistic performances. Enjoy one or more local events that honor and celebrate Juneteenth. Spread the word about events to friends and family. In-person and virtual events can be found across the country.

2. Support Black-Owned Businesses

The number of Black entrepreneurs continues to climb each year. Increased visibility and campus support can go a long way to uplift Black-owned businesses around the Juneteenth holiday.

Supporting Black-owned companies creates more opportunities that can increase generational wealth. Colleges and universities can hire Black-owned restaurants for campus events, share lists of local Black-owned businesses with students, and invite Black-owned retailers to sell their goods on campus.

3. Donate to Black-Led Social Justice Organizations

In addition to participating in Black-led movements, donations to social justice groups help organizations in their daily efforts toward racial equity. Social justice organizations focus on improving legal aid, expanding healthcare access, increasing the number of Black leaders, and growing Black political participation.

4. Honor Black Leaders on Social Media

Social media platforms reach large audiences and can build awareness. Posts and campaigns that teach about and uplift modern and historical Black leaders can ensure the accomplishments of Black Americans are remembered. Additionally, posts specifically about Juneteenth offer opportunities to celebrate and learn about the federal holiday.

5. Host Black Art Shows

All art forms play an indispensable role in the history and culture of Black Americans. Film, music, books, and dance continue to live prominently in Black culture, showcasing Black experiences and the fight for freedom and equality.

Colleges and universities can host exhibits that feature local Black artists, musicians, and dancers. These community-oriented events can honor the significance of art in Black culture while centering joy and connection to Juneteenth celebrations.

Frequently Asked Questions About Juneteenth

Is Juneteenth a federal holiday?

Juneteenth is a federal holiday. In 2021, the U.S. government officially made Juneteenth a federal holiday. Juneteenth National Independence Day became the 12th federal holiday recognized in the U.S. People across the country celebrate Juneteenth and honor its historical significance.

Why is it called Juneteenth?

Juneteenth is a combination of June and nineteenth. On June 19, 1865, Union troops traveled to Galveston, Texas, to enforce the emancipation of enslaved Black people. While the Emancipation Proclamation was issued two years earlier, many enslavers did not comply with the order to end slavery until Union soldiers enforced the law. Juneteenth symbolizes a day of freedom and independence for Black Americans.

When was Juneteenth first celebrated?

Juneteenth celebrations began in 1866, one year after many Black Americans learned about emancipation. The first celebrations included prayer and songs. Beginning in Texas, Juneteenth celebrations soon spread across the country. Today, Juneteenth celebrations on June 19 include festivals, dancing, prayer, and community, family, and educational events.

Portrait of Dr. Donna A. Patterson

Dr. Donna A. Patterson

Dr. Donna A. Patterson is professor and chair of the Department of History, Political Science, and Philosophy at Delaware State University. She is currently a fellow at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. She is also a senior fellow at Delaware State University's Global Institute for Equity, Inclusion and Civil Rights. Patterson is the author of "Pharmacy in Senegal: Gender, Healing, and Entrepreneurship."

Patterson is on the editorial and advisory boards of Africa Today, the World Medical and Health Policy Journal, andthe American Historical Review. Patterson is also the editor ofRoutledge Research in Health and Healing in Africa and the African Diaspora.

Portrait of Dr. Marlin Barber

Dr. Marlin Barber

From Cape Girardeau, Missouri, Dr. Marlin Barber is a senior history instructor at Missouri State University. He holds a doctorate in history from the University of Missouri, and his specialty area is 19th century Black American history and slavery.

His current research is on Black educational autonomy and community in the late 19th century. He's researching how Black communities utilized schools and education after emancipation and argues that schools were just as important as churches in being pillars of those communities.

Barber serves as faculty advisor for the African Students Association and the academic advisor for Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., the oldest collegiate Black Greek Letter fraternity.