A List of Holidays of Interest to African Americans

Each year, more holidays appear on calendars in the United States than Americans even notice, including holidays of particular interest to African Americans. But the general public may not understand their purpose. Take Kwanzaa, for instance. Much of the public has at least heard of the holiday but would be hard-pressed to explain its meaning. Other holidays of interest to African Americans, such as Loving Day and Juneteenth, simply haven't been on the radar of many Americans.

That changed for Juneteenth in 2020, when a series of protests related to Black Lives Matter raised unprecedented awareness about the legacy of enslavement in the U.S. Be it Juneteenth, Black History Month, or Martin Luther King Day, the U.S. holidays related to African Americans have a wide range of origin stories.

What Is Juneteenth?

Juneteenth Memorial Monument at the George Washington Carver Museum in Austin, Texas
By Jennifer Rangubphai/Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 4.0]

When did enslavement end in the United States? The answer to that question isn’t as clear-cut as it seems. While most enslaved people received their freedom after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on Sept. 22, 1862, African Americans in bondage in Texas had to wait more than two-and-a-half more years to receive their freedom. That’s when the Union Army arrived in Galveston on June 19, 1865, and ordered that enslavement in the Lone Star State end.

Since then, African Americans have celebrated that date as Juneteenth Independence Day. Juneteenth is an official state holiday in Texas. It’s also recognized by 47 states and the District of Columbia. In 2020, a number of companies announced that they would make Juneteenth a paid holiday. Juneteenth advocates have worked for years for the federal government to institute a national day of recognition.

Remembering Loving Day

Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga and Director Jeff Nichols attend Loving New York Premiere at Landmark Sunshine Theater on October 26, 2016 in New York City.
Photo by John Lamparski/WireImage

Today, interracial marriage in the U.S. between Black people and white people is growing at a record-breaking pace, but for years, various states barred such unions from taking place between white people and individuals of color.

A Virginia couple named Richard and Mildred Loving challenged the anti-miscegenation laws on the books in their home state. After being arrested and told they couldn’t live in Virginia because of their interracial union—Mildred was Black and Native American, Richard was white—the Lovings decided to take legal action. Their case reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which decided on June 12, 1967, to strike down anti-miscegenation laws in the country.

Today, Blacks, whites, and others celebrate June 12 as Loving Day throughout the nation. And a feature film about Richard and Mildred Loving premiered in 2016; it is simply called Loving.

Kwanzaa Celebrations

Kwanzaa
SoulChristmas/Flickr.com

Many Americans have at least heard of Kwanzaa. They might have seen Kwanzaa celebrations featured on the nightly news or seen Kwanzaa greeting cards in the holiday sections of stores. Still, they may not realize what this week-long holiday commemorates.

Kwanzaa marks a time for African Americans to reflect on their heritage, their community, and their connection to Africa. Arguably, the biggest misconception about Kwanzaa is that only African Americans may observe the event. According to the Official Kwanzaa Website, individuals of all racial backgrounds may participate.

How Black History Month Began

Black History Month
Getty Images clockwise from top left: Afro Newspaper/Gado/Archive Photos; Pictorial Parade/Archive Photos; Mickey Adair/Hulton Archive; Michael Evans/Hulton Archive; Print Collector/Hulton Archive; Fotosearch/Archive Photos

Black History Month is a cultural observance with which virtually all Americans are familiar. Yet, many Americans don’t seem to understand the point of the month. In fact, some white people have claimed that Black History Month is somehow discriminatory because it sets aside a time to remember the achievements of African Americans.

Historian Carter G. Woodson launched the holiday, formerly known as Negro History Week, because the contributions that African Americans made to American culture and society were overlooked in history books in the early 20th century. Thus, Negro History Week marked a time for the nation to reflect on what Black people had achieved in the country in the wake of virulent racism.

Martin Luther King Day

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking before crowd of 25,000 Selma To Montgomery, Alabama civil rights marchers, 1965
Stephen F. Somerstein/Archive Photos/Getty Images

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is so revered today that it’s difficult to imagine a time when U.S. lawmakers would have opposed creating a holiday in honor of the slain civil rights hero. But in the 1970s and early 1980s, King’s supporters, including his fraternity brothers and fellow activists, waged an uphill battle to make a federal King holiday a reality. Finally, in 1983, legislation for a national King holiday passed.