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English for Juneteenth, America's Newest Federal Holiday

English for Juneteenth, America's Newest Federal Holiday

In 2021, US President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law. This act helped to create the nation's newest federal holiday, which is commonly called simply "Juneteenth." But what makes this day special and how do people celebrate it?

It's possible that this is your first time hearing about it, but it has a long history and is slowly becoming more well known in America and internationally. 

In this article, we'll give you the background on this holiday and talk about the activities associated with it. After that, we have a list of words related to Juneteenth that you can use to boost your vocabulary. Let's begin!

What is Juneteenth?

An American flag lying against a calendar set to June 19, or Juneteenth National Independence Day

The American Civil War was fought between the years 1861 and 1865. In this war, soldiers from northern states fought soldiers from the south, and there was one major reason for it all: slavery. In the southern part of America, it was acceptable to buy and sell people and treat them like property. The people used as slaves were Africans who were brought to America on large ships and sent to work on farms and in their owners' homes.

When Abraham Lincoln became president in 1861, he wanted to stop slavery from spreading to more parts of the country. When the southern states tried to separate from the US, a war started that would decide the future of America.

In 1863, President Lincoln published an important document called the Emancipation Proclamation, which officially made nearly all slaves in the country free people. But because the nation was still at war, it took time for this news to reach everyone. Two years later, on June 19, 1865, northern soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, with the news. That's when the people still living in slavery there finally learned they had become free. So the name "Juneteenth" is a combination of "June" and "nineteenth," the day some of the last enslaved people discovered their freedom.

How is Juneteenth celebrated?

A design featuring the faces of African Americans in the color red, black and green

There are many ways to celebrate Juneteenth. Like other summer holidays, it's often a day for picnics, parades and other outdoor activities. In more formal situations, there are religious services and educational programs to learn about the history of the holiday. It's also common for people to read from the Emancipation Proclamation as well as important works from famous African American writers like Ralph Ellison and Maya Angelou.

Another popular tradition is singing Lift Every Voice and Sing, which is also known as the Black National Anthem.

Additionally, now that Juneteenth has become an official holiday in America, there are larger events being held, sometimes featuring celebrity guests.

Vocabulary related to Juneteenth

The following expressions can all be used to talk about Juneteenth. However, many of them are also useful for conversations about other holidays or special events that are connected to important things in the past.


This word is quite similar in meaning to "emancipation," but is more common in daily usage. It's a noun that means "the act of setting someone or something free." It has the nuance of escaping a very difficult situation or environment.

On Juneteenth, we celebrate the liberation of enslaved people in America.
In the 1960s, women in America fought hard for liberation and rights equal to men.

Liberation is from the same root word as "liberty," which you may recognize from New York City's famous Statue of Liberty.


A pilgrimage is a journey to a place that is considered very special. Although it was originally used to refer to religious places, these days it can also be used in lighter situations, such as fans visiting famous locations from TV shows or films.

Some people make pilgrimages to Galveston, Texas, or other historical sites connected to slavery on Juneteenth.
Many Harry Potter fans want to make a pilgrimage to the bookstore that was the inspiration for Hogwarts.


This is a verb meaning "to remember and show respect for an important person, event, etc."

Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the US.
They are having a party to commemorate the club's 50th anniversary. 


"Unite" is a verb that means "to come together." With the prefix "re-" added, the meaning changes to "to come together again." Although you can use it for anyone meeting again after some time, it's often used in romantic situations or for events involving close friends or family.

After slavery officially ended in America, many former-slaves tried to reunite with their family members, who were often sold to other owners.
They couldn't meet for two years because of COVID travel restrictions. They were so happy to finally reunite!


This is a verb that usually means "to look at or notice something." However, one of its other usages is "to celebrate a holiday."

Juneteenth was first observed in Galveston, Texas, in 1866.
New Year's Eve is often observed with partying and lots of alcohol.


Being self-sufficient means that you are able to take care of yourself without needing help from anyone else. It's another way to say "independent," and is considered a very positive trait. The noun form is "self-sufficiency."

Juneteenth celebrates African Americans becoming self-sufficient after many years without control over their own lives.
Our son has been really self-sufficient since he moved out of the house. He has never asked us for any help.


This is another very positive characteristic that means "the ability to deal with or recover quickly from difficulties or problems." The adjective form is "resilient."

Juneteenth is a celebration of African Americans' resilience in surviving a heartbreaking experience and working toward a brighter future.
We expected him to retire after his injury, but he came back better than ever. His resilience surprised everyone.


A symbol is something that represents something else. For example, a flag can be a symbol for a country, and a logo can be a symbol for a company or organization. "Symbolize" is simply the verb form of "symbol."

The star on the Juneteenth flag symbolizes Texas (the "Lone Star State"), the site of the first Juneteenth celebration. 
The flutes in this piece of music symbolize birds in flight.


Understanding more about America's history can help you to understand more about how it is today. Though it's not as famous as some other holidays, Juneteenth is a very important day that encourages us to remember the sacrifices of the past and appreciate the freedom we all enjoy today.

We encourage you to learn more about Juneteenth and tell others about it! And be sure to use the vocabulary presented here to talk about the next special day you celebrate.