COLUMBUS, Ohio — On June 19th, 1865, thousands of soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas to read them the emancipation proclamation and protect them on their new journey to freedom.

What You Need To Know

  • Juneteenth celebrations have been going on in Ohio as early as the mid 1900s
  • Juneteenth celebrates the official freedom of all slaves
  • President Joe Biden made Juneteenth a federal holiday in 2021

Ohio has a strong connection to the Juneteenth holiday. The Ohio River was integral to the Underground Railroad and slaves reaching freedom. Community members across the state have celebrated the monumental day for decades. 

Juneteenth, also known as Jubilee Day and Emancipation Day, commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S. Thousands of soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas on June 19th, 1865 to read them the emancipation proclamation and protect them on their new journey to freedom. While celebrations of the day date back to the late 1800s, parades and festivals have been going on in the state since the late 1950s.

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center has partnered with community members for Juneteenth celebrations since it opened in 2004. Focusing on the history and stories of the Black diaspora, one spokesperson from the museum said on this day she likes to put herself in the shoes of the freed slaves and think about what it would be like to get that type of life altering news. 

“I can’t even imagine what went through them,” said Novella Nimmo-Black, with the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. “I can imagine some of them crying and some of them falling to their knees, some of them halling their arms saying ‘Thank you, Jesus’ or crying out to God or some of them even running, trying to find other family members. They were telling them that we’re finally free, we’re finally free.”

Valerie Boyer with the Ohio History Connection has a special tie to Juneteenth. She’s not only a lover of history but is originally from Galveston, Texas and was Miss Juneteenth 2012. She recalls hearing stories and recounts of the historic day growing up. While many attribute the holiday to the news of freedom arriving two years late to Texas, Boyer said that African Americans had heard that union soldiers were coming for a while and were just waiting for the formal declaration. She said that while many might view Juneteenth as an ending, it’s just a new beginning and a new foundation of this country. 

“We celebrate this story of heroes, right?” said Boyer. “We celebrate this story of not just persevering and not just surviving, but the audacity to thrive. We celebrate, frankly, this protest and this outright refusal to be considered anything less than a full person. Right? Anything less than an American citizen. Anything less than worthy and deserving of the rights and suits of all humankind.”

Boyer recommends everyone take the time to read the Emancipation Proclamation and resonate with what it has to say.

Juneteenth festivities are going on across the state not only today but through the weekend in Akron, Cleveland, Cincinnati and more. You can also visit the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center to learn more about Juneteenth and the history leading up to it and what happened after.