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Juneteenth and Folklore

This guide aims to help researchers explore the folklore origins of the now federally recognized holiday, Juneteenth,

Juneteenth and IU

Pictured: 2010 Juneteenth parade participants, Darren Broady and Jamal Dotson marching on 3rd St. Photo Credit: Andrew Anderson, Indiana Daily Student.In December 2021 Indiana University President Pamela Whitten announced the University's plan to recognize Juneteenth as a holiday by closing offices and granting time off for observance. However, Juneteenth and the University have a long history together.  Since at least 2002, the IU Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center has sponsored an annual celebration of the holiday. Decades earlier, IU folklorist William "Bill" Wiggins was a pioneer researcher on the origins of Juneteenth, which was a vibrant localized folk holiday celebrated in diverse fashion around the United States before it was recognized as a federal holiday. This guide offers more information about professor Wiggins and the folkloric origins of Juneteenth.

Pictured: 2010 Juneteenth parade participants, Darren Broady and Jamal Dotson marching on 3rd St. Photo Credit: Andrew Anderson, Indiana Daily Student.


Juneteenth: A Folk Celebration

Juneteenth celebrates the end of slavery in the United States. Juneteenth National Independence Day became a Federal holiday in 2021, but emancipation celebrations and observances have traditionally been held in different parts of the United States on different dates and under various names, including Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Emancipation Day, Juneteenth Independence Day, and Black Independence Day (Juneteenth: Fact Sheet Congressional Research Service). June 19th was the date celebrated in Texas and surrounding areas since 1866, and Texas was the first state to make it an official state holiday, in 1979.



Detroit Publishing Co., Copyright Claimant, and Publisher Detroit Publishing Co. Emancipation Day, Richmond, Va, circa 1905. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress,

What Does "Juneteenth" Mean?

"Juneteenth is a 'black English' colloquialism that is a combination of two words—a contraction of the words 'June' and 'nineteenth,' and it signifies a festival of freedom—an annual celebration to remember the end of chattel slavery in America. It was on 19 June 1865, in Galveston, Texas, two months after the end of the Civil War, that the last slaves in America to be freed by advancing Union troops under the terms of the Emancipation Proclamation were declared free by General Gordon Granger, commander of the occupying troops in Texas and Oklahoma. The liberated slaves responded to the announcement with joy and jubilation, which quickly turned into a spontaneous festival of freedom." 

"Although African Americans have historically celebrated several different days that mark the end of slavery, Juneteenth has become the preeminent holiday in the modern period. The festivities, now celebrated on the third Saturday of June, still include prayer and praise, historical remembrances, and sometimes African-influenced music and dance, a sort of 're-memory' of the time during slavery when the culture of Africa influenced American culture across the nation. As a main character in Ralph Ellison's posthumously released novel, Juneteenth (1999), says: “Remembering helps us to save ourselves.”

--Morehouse, Maggi M. "Juneteenth." Encyclopedia of African American History 1896 to the Present. New York: Oxford University Press.Date Accessed 25 May. 2022.













Highsmith, Carol M, photographer. Dancers and marchers visit the Juneteenth Celebration on Black Lives Matter Plaza in front of the White House. 16 June, 2020. Photograph retrieved from the Library of Congress,