Juneteenth is a US holiday that has garnered increasing recognition in recent years. It serves as a time to acknowledge the challenges of history while also celebrating the resilience and contributions of Black communities. The observance of the Juneteenth has evolved over time. It has gained momentum and wider participation, particularly following its official designation as a federal holiday. To learn more about the holiday’s history, origins, and celebrations, check out our introduction below:
When is Juneteenth?
As you may have guessed from the name, Juneteenth is celebrated annually in the United States on June 19th. But did you know that people have celebrated the holiday since the 1800s? In 2021, President Biden designated it a federal holiday in light of renewed interest during nationwide protests against racial discrimination.
What are the holiday’s origins?
Juneteenth commemorates the historic emancipation of enslaved African Americans on June 19th, 1865. Although Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, declaring the freedom of all enslaved individuals, its impact was limited. The proclamation applied solely to areas under Confederate control. It exempted rebel territories within Union jurisdiction and border states that still held slaves.
Juneteenth marks the pivotal moment when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas. They assumed control of the state and facilitated the final emancipation of all enslaved people. Slavery had persisted in Texas until U.S. General Gordon Granger delivered General Orders No. 3, proclaiming, “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.” While the realization of freedom was neither instantaneous nor immediate, the commemoration of this significant event gave rise to the Juneteenth holiday.
How did Juneteenth become a federal holiday?
Texas became the first state to designate Juneteenth as a holiday in 1980. However, over the years the holiday was largely celebrated by African American communities rather than on the national level. Nationwide protests against police brutality in 2020 changed everything and spurred the movement for federal holiday recognition. On June 17th, 2021, President Biden officially signed the bill into law making Juneteenth a federal holiday. You may notice the red, white, and blue flag shown on top of the page flying for the holiday. Check out this article to learn more about its symbolism.
How do people celebrate?
Earlier holiday celebrations featured prayer, family gatherings, and annual pilgrimages to Galveston by formerly enslaved people and their families. Galveston remains an important site of Juneteenth celebrations and holds banquets, a scholarship ball, and a festival. Across the nation, the commemoration of Juneteenth takes on diverse expressions. For example, there are campaigns to support Black-owned businesses, community celebrations, and lively barbecues. Each of these activities serves as a testament to the enduring importance of Juneteenth and its deep-rooted historical significance within the United States.