Juneteenth: celebrating freedom and resilience in the United States


Juneteenth: celebrating freedom and resilience in the United States

Employees talk about what it means to them and how they celebrate.

Momentive Staff

June 15, 2023 | 6 min read


If you are unfamiliar, Juneteenth is a holiday that commemorates the effective end of slavery in the United States and gives Americans an opportunity to honor our Black community. Every year, we ask members of our own community to share their own thoughts and experiences. 

Today, some colleagues from our employee resource group for the Black community, BUILD, share some context about the holiday, what it means to them, and some suggestions about how to celebrate Black culture—as well as a little history.

The History of Juneteenth

Juneteenth commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans and recognizes the day when news of their freedom was proclaimed in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865.

President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862, which declared that all enslaved individuals in Confederate territory were to be set free.  Although this news did spread, there was no army to enforce the proclamation in remote areas of Texas. On June 19, 1865, General Order No. 3, issued by Union General Gordon Granger, was posted in Galveston, officially proclaiming the emancipation of enslaved people in Texas.

The adoption of the 13th amendment, Dec. 18th of 1965, ended slavery in states like Kentucky and Delaware, which had not seceded and therefore weren’t covered by Lincoln’s proclamation.  

Still, Juneteenth symbolizes the resilience, strength, and determination of Black people throughout history.

Hillary Wilson

Hillary Wilson headshot

What does Juneteenth mean to you?

To me, Juneteenth is an opportunity for reflection and recommitment. 

It is a time to reflect on the historical significance of the date, and honor the sacrifice our ancestors made to get us to this point. 

Juneteenth is also a time to recommit ourselves to the fight for equality. Injustices are still rampant in our world, and there is much more we can all do to achieve true equality. 

I consider Juneteenth a day to celebrate, reflect, and act. 

How do you celebrate/honor the day?

I’m grateful to live in New York City, where there are dozens of events being held to celebrate Juneteenth. I’ll celebrate by attending local events and supporting Black-owned businesses. 

In honor of the holiday, which book, movie, podcast, album, or other form of content by a Black creator would you recommend to our readers?

This year I read The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois, the debut novel from Honorée Fanonne Jeffers. It’s a sprawling epic that follows one fictional African American family in Georgia from slavery to the present day. The book covers so much American history and touches on topics as wide-ranging as an intersectional approach to discrimination, Black life in the American South, and HBCU culture. 

I also read The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett, which follows several generations of an African American family in Louisiana. The novel explores colorism, class, gender identity, and many other important topics we are still wrestling with to this day. 

Lately I’ve been listening to Raven, the newest album from Kelela. When she announced the album, she stated, “I started this process from the feeling of isolation and alienation I’ve always had as a Black femme in dance music, despite its Black origins. Raven is my first breath taken in the dark, an affirmation of Black femme perspective in the midst of systemic erasure and the sound of our vulnerability turned to power.” And I couldn’t say it any better! 

Jo Rivers

Jo rivers headshot

What does Juneteenth mean to you?

I’m like so many Black folks; Juneteenth and its meaning came to me as an adult. Like our Negro National Anthem, much of African American culture is gained not by formal education but through our deep-rooted oral tradition. News shared by drum across lands or neighbors in passing, we come together and derive meaning in ways that connect us to our personhood. Juneteenth is that: an affirmation of our personhood and a symbolic gesture that perseverance can bring about change.

How do you celebrate/honor the day?

I use Juneteenth as an opportunity for remembrance.  I’ve been blessed by those who came before me and have made my life meaningful and purposeful as a result. 

In honor of the holiday, which book, movie, podcast, album, or other form of content by a Black creator would you recommend to our readers?

I love being exposed to parts of our heritage and culture in the form of narratives that recontextualize our impact on a national identity level. 99% invisible produced a podcast on the Freedom House Ambulance service that, like Juneteenth, wasn’t a part of my education or upbringing, but has helped evolve and continue the decolonization of my own education. While it is not Black creator content, I welcome allyship and celebrate the opportunities to be uplifted and educated. 

Michelle Weaver

Michelle Weaver headshot

What does Juneteenth mean to you? 

The celebration and liberation of enslaved Black people in America. 

“The historical legacy of Juneteenth shows the value of never giving up hope in uncertain times” -The National Museum of African American History 

Recently, I read an article and learned that in 1872, the historical Emancipation Park (which is based on 10 acres of land here in Houston where I reside) was purchased by formerly enslaved ministers and businessmen. Houston’s Juneteenth Celebration is held here annually! 

How do you celebrate/honor the day? 

Will go to my parents house for a cookout and enjoy spending time with all of my nieces and nephews. 

In honor of the holiday, which book, movie, podcast, album, or other form of content by a Black creator would you recommend to our readers? 

Podcasts that I listen to weekly, for entertainment and educational purposes include: The Read, Earn Your Leisure, and Ratchet and Respectable.  I would also recommend Luvvie Ajaayi Jones’s books, I’m Judging You and Professional Troublemaker, and if you’re looking for a book on personal growth/disruption, Shonda Rhimes’s, The Year of Yes.

Tia Jackson

Tia Jackson headshot

What does Juneteenth mean to you?

Juneteenth means freedom to me, as a Black person in America. When I first learned about Juneteenth as an adult, it shocked me that I hadn't been taught about it during my younger years, especially growing up near Galveston, TX. It's gut-wrenching to realize that Black people in Galveston remained enslaved after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued in 1862. I often imagine how I would have felt back then, knowing that I should have been free earlier. It would have been a mix of pain and elation, finally experiencing freedom after enduring slavery for so long. Juneteenth represents freedom for me, and it serves as a reminder that we are not truly free until everyone is free. June 19, 1865, is the day black people in America were finally liberated from enslavement.

How do you celebrate/honor the day?

To commemorate Juneteenth, I join my family and friends in attending local Juneteenth celebrations within our community, coming together to honor this important day. Additionally, I make a conscious effort to support and uplift local Black-owned businesses as a gesture of solidarity and support. 

In honor of the holiday, which book, movie, podcast, album, or other form of content by a Black creator would you recommend to our readers?

To honor this holiday, I highly recommend watching the enlightening "Juneteenth" episode of Blackish (Season 4, Episode 1), which blends humor and education while shedding light on the significance of Juneteenth and highlighting our progress as a nation. Additionally, my Juneteenth anthem is "Freedom" by Beyoncé ft. Kendrick Lamar, as it captures the spirit of resilience and determination in the black community's quest for freedom.


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