Emancipation and the Meaning of Juneteenth

Featured Essay

Each month, the editors of the Oxford African American Studies Center provide insights into black history and culture, showing ways in which the past and present interact by offering specially commissioned featured essays, photographic essays, and a selected list of articles that will guide the reader interested in knowing more. This month the feature highlights the emancipation day celebration known as Juneteenth.

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Photo Essay

family seeking freedom

In the years between the Declaration of Independence and the Emancipation Proclamation, slaves and free blacks established a tradition of festivals not only celebrating but also critically examining African Americans’ progress toward liberty and civil rights. When America became racially segregated at the end of the nineteenth century, such “freedom day” festivals were repressed in some parts of the country. However, emancipation days continued to be celebrated by many southern blacks well into the early twentieth century. The emergence of Juneteenth as a national holiday since the 1930s marks a revival of African Americans honoring the significant contributions they and their ancestors have made to the freedoms of our nation. Using images and text, Hilary Mac Austin examines the meaning of emancipation for slaves during the Civil War and the ways their celebrations of that moment developed into the holiday Juneteenth.

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Featured Articles

The following articles have been selected to help guide readers who want to learn about the history, significance, and continuing development of the meaning of emancipation and its celebration in the United States. (Access to the following articles is available only to subscribers.)

Subject Entries

Primary Source Documents and Commentary