Annual Festival Commemorating the Emancipation of Slaves in the United States

January 1, 1980

June 19

Kollen Park, Holland, MI

By Erika Schlenker

Juneteenth is a national celebration commemorating the end of slavery in the United States on June 19, 1865. Held in Holland since 2000, the celebration spans several days in mid-June with events like a stage production, pageant, and community picnic. Its mission is to encourage African Americans and members of other cultures to celebrate freedom and work toward self-improvement.

History of Juneteenth

Juneteenth is the oldest documented holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. The name is short for the date June 19, 1865 – the day when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas to announce that the Civil War had ended and all slaves were free. This news came two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which was enacted on January 1, 1863.

Since June 19, 1865, freedom, family, and heritage have been annually celebrated on this historic day. Early celebrations typically occurred on church grounds and were centered on education and self-improvement. Barbecuing was popular, in addition to rodeos, fishing, and playing baseball. The Civil Rights movement and Poor People’s March to Washington in 1968 raised the general public’s awareness of the event.

On January 1, 1980, the Texas government made Juneteenth an official state holiday. It became known as Emancipation Day.

Celebrations in Holland

In 2000, Holland started celebrating Juneteenth. It takes place annually with a kick-off event on June 19 and a celebration in Kollen Park. Originally organized by Core City Christian Community Development Association in Holland, the event not only encourages African Americans to be proud of who they are, but also calls community members of all cultures to recognize the triumphant day in American history. Each year yields a diverse turnout of people who want to join in on the fun. In addition to live entertainment, musical performances, food vendors, art, and children’s events, the celebration also includes guest speakers who give attention to important African American issues. In 2013, a stage production was added to the itinerary with hopes of educating the community on the history and significance of Juneteenth. The African American Awareness and Development Organization now sponsors the event.

Juneteenth Pageant

In 2001, the Ms. Juneteenth pageant was launched. Organizers wanted to crown a young woman who could represent the event all year round. Additionally, they wished to promote self-awareness, self-esteem, and worthiness in young African-American women. The winner is not judged on looks, but on her presence, personality, and person. During her reign, the queen is expected to be involved in the community through public speaking, acts of service, and volunteer work. Above all, she must represent excellence in African-American culture.

The pageant has gone through several changes over the years. In 2005, it was canceled due to a lack of volunteer organizers. Four years later, in 2009, former organizer Shandra Smith reintroduced the pageant, on the basis that it benefited young African American women. In 2011, Ms. Juneteenth changed to Holland’s Next Top Model. This rebranding allowed women of all races and ages to compete. During the 2011 competition, each contestant constructed her own outfit and modeled it during the celebration. The following year, in 2012, males were allowed to compete for the first time ever.

Updated Saturday, February 4, 2017