What is Juneteenth? The history and significance of the holiday

Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day, Emancipation Day and Jubilee Day, commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. Check out a list of upcoming events and a Q&A with Irina Amouzou, MOSAIC Community Outreach Coordinator and Women’s & Ethnic Studies (WEST) major, and Alé Ruiz, MOSAIC Coordinator, for opportunities to learn more about this important date.

Upcoming Events

Juneteenth Night of Poetry

6 – 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, June 15
Heller Center (1150 Eagle Rock Rd, Colorado Springs, CO  80918) | Free parking

Celebrate Juneteenth with the UCCS Heller Center by participating in a Poetry Reading Night! Attendees are invited to share passages from their favorite Black and African American poets, or their own work, focused on Juneteenth, Black liberation/freedom, and combatting anti-Blackness. This open mic is free and open to anyone, just be sure to bring topic–related poems – or words – to share. This event is accessible. For reasonable accommodations, please contact us at (719) 255-6277 or [email protected] no later than 72 hours before the event. 

For more information: https://mlc.uccs.edu/event/8108256

Juneteenth Screening of “Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am”

3 – 6 p.m., Friday, June 17
In the MOSAIC and LGBTQ+ Resource Center or online
Zoom access: https://zoom.us/j/99976288280?pwd=OTNOUmQ3bmdTQTFCS2N4NjhpOWZUQT09

“Toni Morrison, a legendary storyteller and Nobel prize-winner, leads an assembly of her peers, critics and colleagues on an exploration of race, America, history and the human condition as seen through the prism of her own literature.” Celebrate Juneteenth with the Black Student Union (BSU), Sisterhood Club, and the MOSAIC & LGBTQ+ Resource Center with an African diaspora inspired meal and film screening of “Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am.” Along with dialogue on the film, there will be a sharing of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” – also known as the Black National Anthem – written by James Weldon Johnson. This event is free, accessible, and open to the UCCS community (students, staff, faculty and friends/family). For reasonable accommodations, please contact us at (719) 255-3319 or [email protected] no later than 72 hours before the event. 

For more information: https://mlc.uccs.edu/event/7655384

Southern Colorado Juneteenth Festival

Friday, June 17, through Sunday, June 19
America the Beautiful Park (near downtown Colorado Springs)

This is a free three-day event featuring music, performance, spoken word, a car show, a fashion show, a kids zone, a variety of games and activities and vendors from Black-owned businesses.

For more information: https://www.csjuneteenthfestival.com/festival


Irina Amouzou, MOSAIC Community Outreach Coordinator and Women’s & Ethnic Studies (WEST) major

What is Juneteenth?

Amouzou: Juneteenth, celebrated on June 19th, began to commemorate the freeing of enslaved people in Texas. Although the Emancipation Proclamation was of 1862, many people were still enslaved until 1865. On June 19, 1865 the last recognized enslaved people of Texas were freed. 

Ruiz: Juneteenth, which first occurred on June 19, 1865, is a federal holiday commemorating the end of chattel slavery. While chattel slavery was federally barred following the passage of the 13th amendment, historians such as Talitha LeFlouria, Douglas Blackmon and Sarah Haley have argued that the penal system and convict leasing that developed after the fall of slavery and Reconstruction were, in many cases, worse than slavery. While chattel slavery may have ended, systems of bondage have intentionally targeted or disproportionately affected Black folks and other people of color.

Why is it important that we recognize Juneteenth?

Amouzou: This is a day that can be used to activate and organize people across the country who are fighting for Black lives. Juneteenth is an opportunity for specifically non-Black people to learn more about the function of enslavement on the United States and the ways they continue to benefit from it and participate in it. The 13th amendment still allows for slavery in prisons, the U.S. is still a slave state, so the work is not over. Juneteenth is a chance to really focus in on that fact and work to end slavery in the U.S.

Ruiz: Juneteenth is important to recognize because Black Americans play significant roles in most of the major social movements that have been created and are often not given recognition for their impact. It is important to note that slavery ended visibly, but we still have slavery in the prison industry because it profits off the free labor of predominately Black and Brown folks. 

Alé Ruiz, MOSAIC Coordinator

When and where did you first learn about Juneteenth and what does Juneteenth mean to you, personally?

Amouzou: I learned about Juneteenth in my senior year of high school when I took the class, U.S. History: Gender, Race, and Class. Juneteenth focuses on Black Americans who are descendants of enslaved people and pushes me to understand the difficulties that many different Black people face.

Ruiz: The first time I heard about Juneteenth was last summer when my friend was surprised that I had to work on that day. The foundation of the U.S. was built on the backs of black slaves which started the anti-blackness in the U.S. My lack of knowledge on this holiday is because white supremacy has worked to affect the education people received in the classroom. This by no means is a coincidence in why I didn’t know of this holiday until now and why it is now recognized as a federal holiday. Personally, what Juneteenth means to me is that this day shouldn’t be the only time we have conservations about slavery and systematic oppression. I believe that Black Americans should celebrate as they wish to do so and individuals that are non-Black Americans should be in solidarity with the Black community.

How can/should Juneteenth be celebrated?

Amouzou: For folks not affected by anti-Blackness, I would recommend donating directly to a Black person’s rent fund, join an organization working to support Black people, and go to protests and read Black authors such as Frantz Fanon. 

Ruiz: Juneteenth celebrations are centered on education and social gatherings that are coordinated by the Black community. I suggest that those that are non-Black Americans attend events that are educational so you can learn more about Juneteenth. Keep in mind the social position you hold when going into affinity spaces of celebration that are meant for members of the Black community. Don’t center yourself in these gatherings and take up space, but it is okay to ask questions and go to these events to learn. There are two amazing events that the MOSAIC center is co-hosting this week. The Poetry Reading Night: Highlighting Juneteenth on June 15 at 6 p.m. in the Heller Center and in partnership with the Heller Center. The other event is a film screening and dialogue on “Toni Morrison: Pieces I am” on Friday June 17 at 3 p.m. in the MOSAIC and LGBTQ+ Resource Center in partnership with Sisterhood (on Instagram @sisterhood_uccs) and Black Student Union (on Instagram @bsu_uccs).

How can people educate themselves and others about Juneteenth?

Amouzou: Read books about Juneteenth and Black authors! And follow the lead of Black leaders in our community. 

Ruiz: There is so much that needs to be done to recognize the impact that slavery had and is still having in the United States. There isn’t one thing that is going to end that impact overnight, but that should not deter anyone from joining the fight. Slavery is currently alive and hasn’t ended, it just visibly did in the public eyes. We need to educate ourselves, spread awareness, and ground our work in social justice because that is how real change will happen. We need to fight the system that continues to oppress marginalized communities. It is not only the work of those being marginalized to fight for our liberation from oppression, but also everyone’s job. As people in this society, we can’t just sit around and continue to see these atrocities happen repeatedly, we must take action.

People can start with a Google search about what Juneteenth is. There are sources out there that are spreading false information, which is something to always keep in mind when searching. A good place to start would be with the article, “The Historical Legacy of Juneteenth” by the National Museum of African American History & Cultures. Another resource that people can use is going to be the Kramer Family Library, which is on campus and asking for assists on researching about Juneteenth. The last thing that I would say is don’t expect your friends, coworkers, or even your partners that are Black individuals to educate you and make the effort to buy books by Black authors talking about their experience and listen to the Black community.