Juneteenth 2021: What is it?

June 11, 2021 | Rachelle

Comments (0)

Juneteenth 2021 is almost here. But what is it, and what does it all mean?

Even though it is not a Canadian national holiday, Juneteenth holds great significance for Black people in North America. In 1834, the enslavement of Black people was abolished throughout the British colonies, including the land we now call Canada. In the USA, Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. However, it was not until word reached Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, that the last Africans in bondage were finally freed.

Juneteenth is a blend of June and nineteenth. This holiday is also known as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Liberation Day and Emancipation Day. Today, this holiday is widely celebrated across the United States with parades, picnics and beauty pageants. Many Canadians celebrate August 1 as our Emancipation Day.

Reverend Josiah Henson (Uncle Tom) provides a first hand account of what life was like to be an enslaved person in North America. 


We have a wide selection of Juneteenth books and films that you can borrow or access from home. Here are some suggestions.
On Juneteenth Book Cover

On Juneteenth is a remarkable and accurate account of the history and importance of this day. Part memoir and part family history, Annette Gordon-Reed takes you on a journey from the past through to present day USA, where the fight for equality is ongoing. 

 Juneteenth A Novel

Award-winning novelist, Ralph Ellison's second book, Juneteenth: A Novel, was published five years after his death. This novel tells the story of a complex relationship between a race-baiting United States senator and a Black Baptist preacher.

Miss Juneteenth - Kanopy

Stream the award-winning drama, Miss Juneteenth, through Kanopy. In this coming-of-age story, a former beauty queen and single mom encourages her daughter to enter the "Miss Juneteenth" pageant. Kai however, is less enthused even though top prize is a full scholarship to a post secondary school. 


For Children

Juneteenth for Mazie

In Juneteenth for Mazie, a little girl learns what true freedom really means. This heartwarming picture book is a gentle introduction to understanding Juneteenth.


Juneteenth by Julie Murray

You can also introduce children to the origins and significance of this African American holiday in Juneteenth by Julie Murray.


Saga Boy

In honour of Juneteenth, we will be hosting a live and online program with Antonio Michael Downing. On June 15, we'll delve into an honest conversation with Downing, author of Saga Boy: My Life of Blackness and Becoming. If you miss the live event, you can also watch the replay at the same link.

Antonio Michael’s world is turned upside down when his grandmother dies, and he is sent to live with his aunt in northern Canada. In this wilderness, he begins his journey as an immigrant minority. Using music and performance, Antonio Michael dramatically transform himself. Saga Boy, is a startling mash-up of memories, lyrics and mythology told in gripping, lyrical prose. This uplifting story of a lonely immigrant boy who overcomes adversity through music, performance, and writing, is not to be missed.


I'd like to leave you with the words of Bob Marley and the Wailers' Redemption Song. Some key lyrics are derived from a speech by political activist, Marcus Garvey.

"Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery
None but ourselves can free our minds
Have no fear for atomic energy
'Cause none of them can stop the time

How long shall they kill our prophets
While we stand aside and look? Ooh
Some say it's just a part of it
We've got to fullfil the book

Won't you help to sing, these songs of freedom?
'Cause all I ever have...Redemption songs."

On June 15 2021, Juneteenth was established as an official federal holiday in the United States of America.

Related links


Don't have a library card? We've got your back. Toronto residents who are 13 years or older can sign up online for a Digital Access Card. This card provides access to countless digital resources including eBooks, eAudiobooks and eMagazines.