TULSA, OKLAHOMA - A festive energy electrifies the hot summer air as friends and family gather for barbecues, cookouts, and get-togethers in the park. Sharing music, art, food, and stories, it’s a time when communities all over the nation unite to celebrate. This might sound like a typical Fourth of July celebration, but this is actually how many celebrate Juneteenth (also known as Emancipation Day or Freedom Day). Although not recognized as a national holiday for over 150 years, countless people across the US have celebrated Juneteenth. And even though the holiday has gained traction in the media over recent years, many are still unsure what Juneteenth is.
On June 19, 1865, a Union Army ship docked in Galveston, Texas, to announce to one of the last groups of enslaved blacks that they were free. In theory, this is great. However, this news comes more than two months after the South’s surrender in the Civil War and over two years after Abraham Lincoln delivered the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. Juneteenth got its start in Texas in 1866. The celebration grew as millions of African Americans relocated from the South to Northern and Western states between 1916 - 1970, known as The Great Migration.
The holiday’s meaning has taken on many forms over the years, but today it’s celebrated by people from various backgrounds and cultures. For many, Juneteenth symbolizes freedom, but it is also a day of reflection, an opportunity to become more aware of present-day racial inequalities, and a chance to think about your role in dismantling these inequalities within society and within ourselves. There’s nothing more American than recognizing the contributions made by a diverse group of people and celebrating our shared history.
If you’re looking to join in on the celebration this year, here are a few ideas to get you started.
Attend Tulsa Juneteenth
Tulsa’s annual Juneteenth Festival, June 17 - 20, is held in the historic Greenwood District and offers plenty of events for the whole family. The festival kicks off on Thursday night with a block party starting at 6:30 p.m. And the rest of the weekend promises to deliver a ton of fun with activities for kids, food trucks, vendors, and top music entertainment.
Host a Barbecue
Juneteenth is all about coming together, and of course, food is always at the center. Invite friends and family over for a summer celebration that includes music, backyard games, and some grilled eats. You can try your hand at some traditional Southern recipes or stick to the tried and true. If cooking is not your thing, then have your party catered by a local Black-owned restaurant. Either way, make sure you don’t skip the strawberry soda or red drink of choice. The tradition of drinking something red is to honor the bloodshed and resilience of the African-American people.
Whether you want to know more about a particular issue or brush up on black history, stop by a locally black-owned bookstore like Fulton Books and ask for a suggestion. You can also browse for titles at the Tulsa Library or shop online. Check out books by iconic black authors like Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes, or James Baldwin. Or, if you want to read more about the holiday, look for Ralph Ellison’s Juneteenth.
Chelsea Sheets, Communications Specialist, Websites4Good
Tulsa native, Chelsea Sheets is a strategic communication professional and activist. Through her commitment to helping make Tulsa a better place to live, work and play, she partners with like-minded small, local businesses and non-profit organizations to help them achieve their goals.