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How Americans Across The Country Celebrated Juneteenth This Year As A National Holiday For The First Time

Though Juneteenth was celebrated long before it became a federal holiday, this year it was cause for wide celebration across the country.

Posted on June 19, 2021, at 6:27 p.m. ET

Alexi Rosenfeld / Getty Images

A young girl waves an African American flag during the Broadway Celebrates Juneteenth in Times Square on June 19 in New York City.

After years of campaigning for Juneteenth to be recognized as a national holiday, Juneteenth National Independence Day was officially signed into law by President Joe Biden on Thursday. The holiday honors June 19, 1865, the day in history when Black people in Galveston, Texas, were told they were no longer enslaved, more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

Though Juneteenth was celebrated long before it was designated a federal holiday, this year it was cause for wide celebration across the United States.

In Brooklyn, New York, people gathered for the unveiling of a George Floyd statue, including his brother Terrence Floyd and rapper Papoose.

John Lamparski / Getty Images

Terrence Floyd (middle in a gray shirt) stands with others during the unveiling of a George Floyd statue in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York.

Opal Lee, a 94-year-old Texas resident who’s been a longtime advocate for making Juneteenth a federal holiday, celebrated this milestone by walking for 2.5 miles in her hometown of Fort Worth, Texas, on Saturday.

Lee’s 2.5-mile walk is symbolic of the two and a half years it took for enslaved people in Texas to learn they’d been freed after the Civil War ended. Back in 2016, Lee, who is known as the "Grandmother of Juneteenth," even walked from Fort Worth to Washington, DC, in an effort to bring attention to Juneteenth.

Amanda Mccoy / AP

Opal Lee, 94, walks toward downtown Fort Worth, Texas, during the first nationally recognized Juneteenth holiday on June 19.

“I’ve got so many different feelings all gurgling up in here. I don’t know what to call them all. I am so delighted to know that suddenly we’ve got a Juneteenth. It’s not a Texas thing or a Black thing. It’s an American thing,” Lee told CBS when she learned that Congress had passed a bill to recognize Juneteenth as a holiday.

“We might take a breather, but we’ve got all these disparities we’ve got to address, and I mean all of them. While we got the momentum, I hope we can get some of it done. We can have one America if we try,” she said.

Lee was also invited to the White House on Thursday to witness Biden signing legislation designating Juneteenth a federal holiday.

People in Atlanta gathered for a parade in honor of Juneteenth.

Megan Varner / Getty Images

People watch a parade taking place to celebrate Juneteenth in Atlanta.

In Washington, DC, others gathered in Black Lives Matter Plaza to celebrate the new federal holiday, including a bride and groom who danced in the midst of the gathering.

Roberto Schmidt / AFP via Getty Images

A bride and groom dance as they walk past people celebrating Juneteenth at the Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, DC.

In Galveston, Texas, the town where Juneteenth originated in 1865, onlookers watched a parade from a decorated house.

Several people watch from the porch of a house with American flags displayed and commemorative signs.
Go Nakamura / Getty Images

Spectators watch the Juneteenth Parade in Galveston, Texas.

Go Nakamura / Getty Images

A Black Lives Matter banner is seen on the back of a pickup truck during Juneteenth Parade in Galveston, Texas.

A crowd marched in Louisville, Kentucky.

Jon Cherry / Getty Images

At St. Augustine Catholic Church in New Orleans, people held a ceremony and gave musical performances.

A ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Slave at St. Augustine Church included traditional Black Masking Indian drums and tambourines to honor #Juneteenth.

Twitter: @OffBeatMagazine


A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.