Juneteenth is a celebration held during the month of June in Arkansas and throughout the nation to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States. The celebration originated in Texas in 1865 to mark the date when the news of the emancipation of the slaves reached the state. Since 2005, the third Saturday in June has been officially considered “Juneteenth Independence Day” in Arkansas.

Although President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, the actual emancipation of the slaves came on different dates in different regions. In Galveston, Texas, for instance, it was on June 19, 1865, that a regiment of Union soldiers informed the residents that all former slaves were free. June 19 became a day of celebration in Texas marked by numerous activities such as thanksgiving services, concerts, pageants, and barbecues. It was eventually called Juneteenth. In 1980, the date was declared “Emancipation Day in Texas,” a legal state holiday.

Over the years, the celebration of Juneteenth spread from Texas to other states, including Arkansas. Each year, festivals, banquets, lectures, film screenings, and other events are organized in cities across the state during the month of June for the occasion.

In Fort Smith (Sebastian County), the Juneteenth Planning Commission, Inc., typically organizes a month-long celebration that begins with a banquet, followed by a Summer Jam concert and other community events. The Northwest Arkansas Juneteenth Celebration is held each year in Springdale (Washington and Benton counties) and includes a cookout, musical performances, and children’s games. In Little Rock (Pulaski County), the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center hosts a daylong event featuring vendors and live entertainment. Events are also held in Camden (Ouachita County), Pine Bluff (Jefferson County), and other places in Arkansas.

In 2005, the Arkansas Senate established the third Saturday in June as “Juneteenth Independence Day,” a memorial day to be commemorated by the issuance of a proclamation by the governor. The Senate bill declared Juneteenth Independence Day as a day to commemorate the end of 200 years of slavery in the United States, promoting racial reconciliation and healing from the legacy of slavery.

For additional information:
“Act 2010 of 2005.” Arkansas State Legislature. http://www.arkleg.state.ar.us/assembly/2005/R/Acts/Act2101.pdf (accessed July 21, 2013).

Gay, Kathlyn. African-American Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations. Detroit: Omnigraphics, Inc., 2006.

“Juneteenth.” Mosaic Templars Cultural Center. http://www.mosaictemplarscenter.com/juneteenth/default.aspx (accessed July 21, 2013).

Juneteenth Planning Commission, Inc. http://www.juneteenthfortsmith.com/ (accessed July 21, 2013).

Musa, Aziza. “State Celebrates Juneteenth with Weekend of Festivities.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, June 17, 2011, p. 14.

NWA Juneteenth Celebration. http://www.nwajuneteenth.org/ (accessed July 21, 2013).

Bibi Mwamba
Little Rock, Arkansas

Last Updated: 10/08/2013