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From parades to pageants, here's how America has celebrated Juneteenth over the decades

Yoonji Han   

From parades to pageants, here's how America has celebrated Juneteenth over the decades
Juneteenth has been celebrated since 1866.Bastiaan Slabbers/Getty
  • Celebrations for Juneteenth began in 1866 as a way to commemorate the end of slavery.
  • Over the years, more and more US states have recognized Juneteenth; in 2021, it became a federal holiday.

Juneteenth has long been a celebration of Black emancipation, community, and joy.

On June 19, 1865, a Union Army general declared that the more than 250,000 enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas, were free by executive decree. Most enslaved people in Texas were unaware that they had been freed two years prior with President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation.

The first celebrations for Juneteenth — a portmanteau of "June" and "nineteenth" — took place one year later in 1866 in Texas, ranging from parades and parties to concerts and cookouts. Juneteenth first became a state holiday in Texas in 1980, and other states began to follow suit soon after. On June 2021, it became a federal holiday.

Juneteenth celebrations have evolved and expanded over the decades, including an all-Black rodeo and a 51-mile bike ride along the Emancipation Trail from Galveston to Houston.

Long-held traditions and throughlines also persist, from the centrality of music and dance, to re-enactments that commemorate Black history.

Photographs of Juneteenth celebrations over the past century capture a visual history of its roots and breadth:

Decorated carriages have long been a staple of Juneteenth parades.

Decorated carriages have long been a staple of Juneteenth parades.
A group of people ride a decorated carriage in a Juneteenth parade in Corpus Christi, TX, 1913.      George McCuistion/DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University

Nowadays, cars and other vehicles are decked out in tribute.

Nowadays, cars and other vehicles are decked out in tribute.
Wardell Walters drives his vehicle "Star 1", a tribute to the city during the annual Juneteenth Parade as it rolls through the Fillmore District neighborhood of San Francisco, CA in 2014.      Michael Macor/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty

Music has always been a key part of Juneteenth celebrations.

Music has always been a key part of Juneteenth celebrations.
A group of musicians play their instruments at a Juneteenth celebration in Texas, 1900.      Grace Murray Stephenson/Austin History Center

The legacy of music across the Black diaspora continues to this day.

The legacy of music across the Black diaspora continues to this day.
A group of women from the Afro-Caribbean community with traditional instruments in Philadelphia in 2018.      Bastiaan Slabbers/Getty

Re-enactments of history, like when Union generals entered Galveston to proclaim the end of slavery, are also part of Juneteenth celebrations.

Re-enactments of history, like when Union generals entered Galveston to proclaim the end of slavery, are also part of Juneteenth celebrations.
A group of men dress up in Civil War uniforms in 1900, likely for a re-enactment of the Union's entry into Galveston the day before emancipation was declared.      Grace Murray Stephenson/Austin Public Library

The Buffalo Soldiers were comprised of former slaves, freemen, and Black Civil War soldiers.

The Buffalo Soldiers were comprised of former slaves, freemen, and Black Civil War soldiers.
In 2010, Jonas Felix leads the Buffalo Soldiers of the American West during the Juneteenth Parade, in the historic Five Points neighborhood, in Denver, CO.      Craig F. Walker/Getty

Dressing up as other renowned figures is a way to commemorate Black history.

Dressing up as other renowned figures is a way to commemorate Black history.
In 1996, two girls dressed up as Phyllis Wheatley and Nefertiti at Theodore Wirth Park in Minneapolis.      Jerry Holt/Star Tribune via Getty

Dancing comes hand-in-hand with musical celebrations on Juneteenth.

Dancing comes hand-in-hand with musical celebrations on Juneteenth.
The North Minneapolis Oak Park Drill Team in 1995.      Marlin Levison/Star Tribune via Getty

The forms of dancing have diversified over the years.

The forms of dancing have diversified over the years.
The Denver Dancing Diamonds perform at Five Points, Denver, CO on June 20, 2015.      Joe Amon/The Denver Post via Getty

Miss Juneteenth pageants began as a way to celebrate Black beauty and achievement, especially since preexisting pageants were predominantly white.

Miss Juneteenth pageants began as a way to celebrate Black beauty and achievement, especially since preexisting pageants were predominantly white.
Miss Juneteenth in 1989 in the historic Black neighborhood of Five Points in Denver, Colorado.      Denver Public Library Special Collections

In 2020, the first-ever National Miss Juneteenth Pageant was held in Memphis, Tennessee.

In 2020, the first-ever National Miss Juneteenth Pageant was held in Memphis, Tennessee.
Miss Juneteenth 2015, Sean-Maree Swinger-Otey, 17, at a Juneteenth parade in Denver, Colorado.      Joe Amon/Getty

An iconic all-Black rodeo celebrates Juneteenth.

An iconic all-Black rodeo celebrates Juneteenth.
The Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo is an all-Black rodeo event that often hosts events to celebrate Juneteenth.      Jason Armond/LA Times via Getty

Juneteenth celebrations in 2020 took on a renewed political spark after the murder of George Floyd.

Juneteenth celebrations in 2020 took on a renewed political spark after the murder of George Floyd.
A group of protestors march in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement on Juneteenth.      John Minchillo/AP

Juneteenth became a federal holiday in June 2021.

Juneteenth became a federal holiday in June 2021.
A parade celebrating Juneteenth on June 19, 2021 in Annapolis, Maryland.      Alex Wong/Getty

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