The holiday, already celebrated for many years in Texas, marks the time in 1865 when enslaved people in Texas were told they were freed under the Emancipation Proclamation, which was issued two years earlier.
Amilcar Shabazz, professor of history and Africana Studies at UMass Amherst, was a major proponent behind making Juneteenth a state holiday in Massachusetts. He helped organize Juneteenth celebrations in the town of Amherst more than a decade ago.
"It's quite exciting to be living long enough to see something like this happen," Shabazz said.
Many Americans knew little of the holiday before the racial reckoning of the past year. As a native Texan, Shabazz remembered the day being widely celebrated. "It was a time of gathering, a time of family reunions, a time of celebration, a time of story telling, telling ourselves our own stories," he said.
The push to make Juneteenth an official state and federal holiday got a renewed push following the 2020 murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis. "I think it was his death that definitely triggered a deeper reckoning in this country than we've had since the '60s, since the civil rights movement," Shabazz said.
Several Massachusetts communities will have events, parades, and other ceremonies to mark Juneteenth this year. Shabazz hopes it becomes a day of celebration.
"Someone was saying it's a day for white people to fall back, to listen more, give the mic over to people of African descent," Shabazz said, "whether in song, in sermon, in stories, and grow from that.
"It's meant to be a good time. It's not meant to be something putting you to sleep or depressing you."
This segment aired on June 18, 2021.