Students, faculty, and staff at the University of Wisconsin–Madison are encouraged to take advantage of the many virtual and in-person opportunities in Dane County this week in celebration of Juneteenth. The holiday commemorates when U.S. troops liberated nearly 200,000 Black Texans on June 19, 1865, bringing freedom to the last enslaved people in the former Confederacy more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. It’s a celebration of freedom and African American history, culture, and progress.
“Juneteenth is a celebration of freedom and marks an important moment in American history. We are proud to be a part of our community celebrations which promote unity, pride and awareness,” said Cheryl B. Gittens, UW–Madison interim deputy vice chancellor for diversity & inclusion and chief diversity officer. “I encourage everyone in the UW–Madison community to participate in the events being offered this week by the Kujichagulia Center and other community organizations as we come together to celebrate and reflect.”
The Juneteenth flag will be displayed at Wisconsin Union buildings this Juneteenth holiday weekend in what is believed to be the first university-sponsored flying of the flag on the UW–Madison campus. The flag will be displayed from Friday, June 18, through Monday, June 21, as part of the annual celebration of freedom.
Madison-area Juneteenth observances
The Kujichagulia Madison Center for Self-Determination, a nonprofit organization that promotes African American cultural and educational events, has organized and hosted Madison’s Juneteenth celebration for more than 30 years. The University of Wisconsin–Madison is proud to sponsor Kujichagulia’s Juneteenth events, which this year will run from June 16-19 with the theme “Black Resilience: Rising from the Ashes.”
- Wednesday: Rise Up to Reach Back precollege/college fair and other events for youth (virtual)
- Thursday: Our Voices Matter: Voting, Social Injustice and The Power of Black Voices & Spoken Word & Open Mic (virtual)
- Friday: Feed Our Bellies, Feed Our Souls (virtual)
- Friday: Health Panels Programs (virtual – in partnership with the UW Carbone Cancer Center)
- Friday: Kitchen Chemist Virtual Youth Science Celebration
- Saturday: Community Celebration (in-person – parade and celebration in Penn Park, including science activities from the UW Discovery Outreach program)
In partnership with Kujichagulia, following the parade and celebration in Penn Park on Saturday, the Wisconsin Union’s Wisconsin Union Theater will feature Milwaukee singer-songwriter Donna Woodall at 7 p.m. and renowned trumpeter, composer and bandleader Marquis Hill at 9 p.m. at the Memorial Union Terrace as part of the annual Madison Jazz Festival.
Other Madison-area events
- AmFam’s DreamBank will host two free online events:
- YWCA Madison and Alicia Walters will host a Black Thought Wall interactive community art installation as a restorative space that centers, celebrates, and stewards Black expression, thought, joy and sacredness. The free event will be held Friday from 4 to 6 p.m.
- Freedom, Inc. will host a free Juneteenth Freedom Fest at Aldo Leopold Park on Saturday from 1 to 5 p.m.
- The free #IssaUsThing Juneteenth Celebration will be held on Saturday at Elver Park from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
The history of Juneteenth
The Emancipation Proclamation, signed by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, declared freedom for the millions of enslaved people in areas under Confederate rule. However, it wasn’t until the victory of the U.S. over the rebellion in the spring of 1865 that the great majority of African Americans could confidently assert that freedom.
Even after the war ended, slavery persisted in Texas. As told by UW–Madison professor of history Stephen Kantrowitz, the Texas slaveholders were sheltered by distance from federal authority, allowing them to refuse to acknowledge the new reality. It was only the arrival of U.S. troops that ended the slaveholders’ power and brought freedom to nearly 200,000 Texans.
Juneteenth (also known as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Liberation Day, and Emancipation Day) celebrates the official proclamation of that freedom by Major General Gordon Granger on June 19, 1865. Black Texans first celebrated the anniversary in 1866, and as the descendants of formerly enslaved Texans spread across the U.S. in the years that followed, they brought the tradition with them. The holiday was first officially recognized by the state of Wisconsin in 2009.
The Juneteenth flag was created in 1997 by Ben Haith, founder of the National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation, and revised in 2000 and 2007 to become the flag that is displayed around the country today. The flag depicts a star surrounded by a nova in the red, white, and blue of the American flag, representing a new beginning and the true realization of the freedoms laid out in the Declaration of Independence.
Learn more about Juneteenth
- Find Juneteenth resources in UW Libraries
- Juneteenth – Library of Congress
- Juneteenth Fact Sheet (PDF) – U.S. Congressional Research Service
- Juneteenth: Our Other Independence Day – Smithsonian Magazine
- National Juneteenth Observance Foundation
- The History of Juneteenth by Professor Stephen Kantrowitz – College of Letters & Science)
- The Juneteenth Flag: The History Behind Its Colors and Symbols – Reader’s Digest
- What is Juneteenth? by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. – PBS.org