Researching Juneteenth Celebrations at The New York Public Library

By Rhonda Evans, Assistant Chief Librarian
June 19, 2017

Updated 6/1/2023

Juneteenth is a holiday celebrated across the country commemorating the formal emancipation of slaves in the United States. Although the Emancipation Proclamation was scheduled to be effective on January 1, 1863, slavery continued after that date in many states. It was not until two years later, on June 19, 1865, in Galveston, Texas that a Major General from the Union Army informed some of the last remaining slaves of their freedom. This day marked the formal end of slavery in the United States, and Juneteenth was born in celebration of that day. Today the summer holiday is often celebrated by large get-togethers, cookouts, music, and food. But this holiday has evolved significantly over the century. Let's take a look back at some memorable past Juneteenth celebrations and events as reported in many of the popular African-American newspapers of the time, all available through The New York Public Library's electronic resources.

Celebration of the abolition of slavery in Maryland

Celebration of the abolition of slavery in Maryland.

Image ID 813505. New York Public Library Digital Collections

  • The first Juneteenth celebrations were especially important. Many African-Americans who were enslaved participated in the celebrations and passed on their experiences to the next generation. In Parsons, Kansas in 1895, the Parsons Weekly Blade, told how they celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of the emancipation by, "indulging in various pleasures," followed by "sumptuous repasts." Then came a series of speeches about the importance of Juneteenth and the experience of slavery still fresh for many African-Americans. After the speeches, the celebrations continued with, "an animated game of baseball."

  • In 1915, The Chicago Defender wrote, "Texas is a wonderful state in more ways than one. Looking at it from our point of view, they can deal out some of the most unjust justice and then, as if to relieve their conscience, they can flop over and do the most gracious things." That year, in celebration of Juneteenth, Governor Ferguson pardoned forty prisoners from the state penitentiary.

The 1930s was a decade of particularly memorable Juneteenth events:

  • Juneteenth began to evolve into a celebration of progress for African-Americans. On June, 18th, 1936, as part of the Juneteenth celebrations in Dallas, Texas, they held what was considered, "the first interracial track meet in the history of the South."
Atlanta Daily World, Jun 30 1936

Atlanta Daily World, Jun 30 1936

  • That same year, a dark cloud came over the many Juneteenth celebrations. In the General Motors Auditorium in Fort Worth Texas, "Negroes rubbed shoulders with equally as many Whites," and listened to the broadcast of the Joe Louis - Max Schemling fight. Louis was knocked out in round twelve and, as the Atlanta Daily World put it, "the defeat of Joe Louis served as a fatal blow... [and there was] a frantic effort to cheer up the downhearted race lads who went down with the black idol from Detroit."
Atlanta Daily World, Jun 30 1936

Atlanta Daily World, Jun 30 1936

The 1960s, in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement, brought more politically minded Juneteenth celebrations.

  • In Washington, DC, 100,000 people participated in the "Poor Peoples March."  A march held in support of the campaign to end poverty.
Chicago Daily Defender, Jun 17 1968

Chicago Daily Defender, Jun 17 1968

The celebrations of Juneteenth have changed over time, from "popularity contests" to protest movements. All of these events and more can be researched online using The New York Public Library's electronic resources. Explore the databases, African American Experience, ProQuest Historical African American Newspapers, and African American Periodicals, 1825 -1995. One can access even more e-resources by visiting NYPL branches, such as, Black Studies Center or Freedman's Bank Records, an excellent source for anyone researching African-American heritage. Patrons interested in the subject should also visit the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and explore their expansive print and electronic collections.

This post was researched entirely using NYPL's electronic resources. With more than 500 online research options available, many accessible from home with a library card, we challenge you to go beyond the search engine and dig deeper online with the Library.

Read More

Want to learn more about Juneteenth? Here's a list of books on the holiday for all ages available across NYPL libraries.


Brooks, Christopher. "Juneteenth." The American Mosaic: The African American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2017, Accessed 14 June 2017.

Davis, Emily C. "LOUISIANA." The Chicago Defender (National edition) (1921-1967): 23. Apr 20 1935. ProQuest. Web. 14 June 2017.

"Dallas Will See Interracial Track Meet 'Juneteenth'." The Pittsburgh Courier (1911-1950), City Edition ed.: 1. Jun 20 1936. ProQuest. Web. 14 June 2017.

"JUNE "TEENTH." The Chicago Defender (Big Weekend Edition) (1905-1966): 8. Jul 03 1915. ProQuest. Web. 14 June 2017.

"Local and Personal News." Parsons Weekly Blade: 4. Jun 22 1895. African American Newspapers, 1827-1995 (Readex). Web. 14 June 2017.

"Popularity Contest at Florence Mills Theater." Los Angeles Sentinel (1934-2005): 4. Jun 04 1936. ProQuest. Web. 15 June 2017.

R, Luke M. "JUNETEENTH MARRED BY FIGHT." Atlanta Daily World (1932-2003): 2. Jun 30 1936. ProQuest. Web. 14 June 2017

"Thousands to Take Part in 'Juneteenth' Rally." Chicago Daily Defender (Daily Edition) (1960-1973): 6. Jun 17 1968. ProQuest. Web. 14 June 2017.