Why Do We Celebrate Juneteenth? Columbians Share the History and How They Observe the Day

June 17, 2021

For many, especially in the southern United States and particularly in Texas, Juneteenth has been an emancipation celebration observed for generations. It commemorates the announcement of General Order No. 3, proclaiming freedom from slavery in Texas on June 19, 1865. That day was when every enslaved person in the U.S. finally knew that they were free and the institution came to an end.

It’s possible that you’re among the many people just coming to understand the holiday. Columbia invites you to dig into the history it honors and mark it in one way or another. This year, for the second time, the university will observe Juneteenth.

This Columbia mini-doc uncovers the backstory—historical and personal—of Juneteenth, as told by a collection of our students, scholars, and staff. We thank all of them for sharing their voices and experiences.

Correction: Professor Bob O'Meally is Zora Neale Hurston Professor of English and Comparative Literature.

Full academic titles are below.


00:00 Intro

02:39 The History of Emancipation Day

03:55 Discovering Juneteenth in 1971

04:28 George Floyd & Juneteenth 2020

06:02 ‘How I Celebrate’

07:02 A National Celebration

08:46 Nonwhite Coalition-building

10:38 University Recognition

11:20 How Long Will it Be Before Freedom Is Real?

Featuring: Frank Guridy, Associate Professor of History and African American and African Diaspora Studies

Colby King, CC’22, African American and African Diaspora Studies and Psychology

Lewis Long, Associate Director, The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery

Karma Lowe, Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Community Engagement, School of Social Work

Stephanie McCurry, R. Gordon Hoxie Professor of American History in Honor of Dwight D. Eisenhower

Robert O’Meally, Zora Neale Hurston Professor of English and Comparative Literature

Samuel Roberts, Associate Professor of History, Sociomedical Sciences, and African American and African Diaspora Studies

Ixchel Rosal, Associate Vice President for Student Life, Office of University Life

Bérénice Sylverain, GS’21, African American and African Diaspora Studies