Iowa History
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Iowa History

Iowa Celebrates Juneteenth

Communities across Iowa are gearing up this month for Juneteenth, the celebration commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. From Council Bluffs to the Quad Cities, Iowans can participate in a wide range of activities leading up to the holiday on June 19.

“Freedom, equality and liberty have a complex history in Iowa,” said Leo Landis, state curator for the State Historical Society of Iowa. “With the Juneteenth events, we can recognize and celebrate the efforts of Black Iowans to gain equal treatment and full citizenship.”

The first celebration of what would become Juneteenth took place in Texas on June 19, 1866, which marked the first anniversary of the day African Americans there first learned of the Emancipation Proclamation. Here in Iowa, the first-known emancipation celebration happened in Muscatine in 1856, when locals recognized the end of slavery in the British West Indies. Those celebrations continued in Iowa after the Civil War and into the early 20th century, Landis said, but the tradition had largely faded by the 1960s.

In 1989, emancipation celebrations began to gain momentum when Davenport held a Juneteenth event. Des Moines followed in 1990, Waterloo in 1994, Sioux City in 1998, and Cedar Rapids in 2002. That same year, Gov. Tom Vilsack signed legislation to make Juneteenth an official state holiday, making Iowa the seventh state to do so. Juneteenth became a federal holiday in 2021.

This year, people can visit the State Historical Museum of Iowa to see “Celebrating Freedom: Juneteenth in Iowa,” a display of artifacts and photos that highlight the history of Juneteenth and honors the legacy of Iowans who have promoted freedom.

Other Juneteenth activities in Iowa include:

More information about these and other Juneteenth events can be found online a Travel Iowa.

The History of Juneteenth

1619: Black slavery begins in British North America
1775: Lord Dunmore offers freedom to enslaved Blacks in Virginia if they remain loyal to Great Britain
1776: Declaration of Independence is signed
1787: The Constitutional Convention finalizes the U.S. Constitution, which counts each enslaved Black American as 3/5 of a person.
1839: Iowa Supreme Court decides the case of Ralph
1841: Territorial Governor Chambers brings enslaved people with him from Kentucky to Iowa
1846: Iowa statehood
1856: Muscatine Emancipation Celebration
1859: John Brown leads freedom seekers through Iowa
1861: Civil War begins
1863: Emancipation Proclamation is issued
1865: Gordon Granger arrives in Galveston, Texas, to inform the people of Texas that all enslaved people were free
1872-1873: 10th anniversary Emancipation Celebrations in Anamosa, Burlington, Muscatine, Keokuk and Tipton
1885: Iowa Civil Rights Act
1965: Iowa Civil Rights Act
1989: Juneteenth becomes annual tradition in the Quad Cities, followed by Des Moines (1990), Iowa City (1994), Cedar Rapids (1995) and Sioux City (1998)
2002: Gov. Tom Vilsack signs legislation making Juneteenth a state holiday
2021: Juneteenth becomes a federal holiday

Jeff Morgan, Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs



State Historical Society of Iowa. Preserving and providing access to Iowa History.

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