Montoya Hudson is the creator of The Spring Break Family. With her husband, Phil, and their adorable daughters, they equip working families with the knowledge they need to explore the world as a family. Although her favorite hobby is travel, she calls Houston, TX, home.
As a young Black girl growing up in south Texas, Juneteenth has always been a part of my upbringing. My mother, who grew up in the aftermath of a Jim Crow south, made sure of it. The Emancipation Proclamation, the legal decree that abolished slavery in the United States, was issued in 1862, but it took two and a half years for the good news to reach the city of Galveston in Texas. As such, we recognize the end of slavery in the United States on June 19th,1865, or Juneteenth.
As a kid, I attended lively gatherings at Hermann Park in Houston, TX, to celebrate the holiday. People from all over would gather to honor our good fortune. Children would roll down the nearby hill while enjoying the summer sun. The adults held endless domino battles at makeshift tables and recounted how things were “back in the day.” They’d play zydeco music, sing the blues, and serve classic Southern dishes like barbeque and crawfish with potatoes and corn. It was a cacophonous blend of old and new, of past and present that my family looked forward to every year. Although commemoration of the holiday has evolved since then, the root of Juneteenth remains the same: jubilee, community, and history.
Here are three Texas cities where you can celebrate Juneteenth with your family.
Juneteenth Means Jubilee
Galveston, TX, can easily be considered the epicenter of Juneteenth. It’s where the Union army announced the end of slavery across the state of Texas and where some of the first recorded Juneteenth celebrations took place. For years after the proclamation, freed African Americans would make an annual pilgrimage back to Galveston to celebrate the occasion.
The jubilant holiday is commemorated in Galveston with a historical marker in The Strand district. The city also recently revealed a new 5,000 sq. foot mural in partnership with the Juneteenth Legacy Project, to illustrate the occasion and its significance to Galveston and to freed African Americans around the country.
The building believed to be the reading place of the proclamation in 1865, Ashton Villa, is still standing. It’s not open to visitors, but the balcony that birthed Juneteenth is visible from the exterior.
While you’re there, stop by the Galveston Island Visitors Center in the rear carriage house. They’ve got the inside scoop on all the fun things to do in Galveston with your family. And there are plenty! Head to Galveston’s Pleasure Pier for amusement rides and carnival games all situated on an over-the-water boardwalk. Visit Schlitterbahn, Galveston’s Texas-sized waterpark, with over 30 rides, several pools, and a lazy river. There are also ghost tours, fishing boats, and kayaking fun in Galveston.
Even with so much to do, the highlight of Galveston is its beach. Why not stay in a spacious beach house with a sensational ocean view like this beachfront beauty?
Juneteenth Means Community
As the Texas city with the largest African American population, Houston has been a longstanding celebrant of Juneteenth. In fact, Juneteenth was made an official holiday in Houston several years before it was recognized by the state of Texas.
Following the decree, many freed African Americans flocked to Houston to foster community through freedman neighborhoods, churches, schools, and businesses. Many of these historical areas still remain in Houston.
One of them is Emancipation Park in the heart of Houston’s historically Black neighborhood Third Ward. The park was founded when several freedmen pooled their money to purchase 10 acres of land to serve as the epicenter of the community. The park was named Emancipation Park in honor of what the purchase represented. To this day, it is a focal point of Third Ward and a venue for annual Juneteenth celebrations. The park features a baseball field, a family-friendly playground, a basketball gym, and a recreation center.
There are community gems throughout the rest of Houston, too! While in Houston, stop by the Museum District to check out one of 19 museums that cover everything from natural science to African American history. There are also plenty of urban parks, including downtown’s Discovery Green with weekly special events like “Yoga on the Green,” roller skating, and live musical performances. The Houston Zoo is award-winning and has over 6,000 animals that call it home. If you’re up for a little bit of a drive, then you definitely won’t want to miss Space Center Houston. A visit there will feel like it is out of this world (pun intended).
When visiting Houston with your family, consider staying in the heart of Houston in this urban bungalow.
Juneteenth Means History
Fort Worth, TX, has a deep history tied to the Juneteenth holiday. The unique Texan landscape in the area gave birth to a population of Black cowboys who created their own unique holiday traditions. Annual events like Juneteenth rodeos, galas, and picnics were born in the Fort Worth area and continue even today.
The Miss Juneteenth pageant, an annual tradition granting African American girls scholarships for college, also started in Fort Worth. The pageant has an element of glitz and glamour, but at its center is education, a benefit that was denied to African Americans for generations.
The city is also home to Ms. Opal Lee, who at 94 years young, takes an annual 2.5-mile trek in hopes of making Juneteenth a national holiday. Each mile is in recognition of the length of time it took for Texas to receive news of its emancipation. Visitors are encouraged to join in either virtually or in person.
Fort Worth is chock-full of other activities for families as well. If you and the family are history buffs (and even if you aren’t), you’ll definitely want to visit the Fort Worth Stockyards, where you can watch reenactments of the lives of western cowboys. They even herd cattle right through the historic district on the weekends. The Fort Worth Zoo has been voted one of the best zoos in the nation several times. The city is also home to several world-class museums, parks, and gardens.
Fully embrace the rugged country landscape that is Fort Worth with a stay at this modern farmhouse near downtown.
Juneteenth is rightfully an important event to the entire country. The end of slavery permanently changed the landscape of this country’s history and should be a marked holiday for everyone. But while Juneteenth may not be just a “Texas thing,” no other area has roots for the holiday quite as deep. A visit to any of these three cities is guaranteed to be an educational, one-of-a-kind experience.