Juneteenth marks the day slaves were freed in the United States. First celebrated in 1865, Juneteenth commemorates the day when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to ensure that all slaves were officially freed!
This momentous occasion came a full two years after the 1862 Emancipation Proclamation was signed by Abraham Lincoln. Juneteenth is forever recognized as a celebratory day of freedom and community.
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June 19th, 1865: the day the entire country became free
So, what is Juneteenth? And where did the origin of the name come from? The name Juneteenth is a combination of the month of June and the nineteenth day of the month.
It’s also sometimes referred to as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day. This name reflects the fact that all slaves were set free on June 19, 1865. We celebrate Juneteenth because it’s important to commemorate the day all people were officially free in America!
The history of Juneteenth
The road to freedom began with the Emancipation Proclamation. Issued on January 1, 1863, by President Abraham Lincoln, the proclamation stated that all enslaved people in the Confederate states—which were part of the rebellion against the Union—must be set free.
Unfortunately, the Emancipation Proclamation didn’t take effect instantly as it only applied to the parts of the country that were under Confederate control. Neither rebel areas under Union control nor slave-holding border states were covered by the Emancipation Proclamation.
However, it was an important first step to freedom. After the Proclamation was signed, Northern troops moved into the Confederate South, and numerous enslaved people were able to flee and seek safety behind Union lines.
A full two years later after the end of the Civil War in 1865, General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas. His momentous arrival signaled freedom for the 25,000 enslaved people in Texas at the time.
Although there was still work to be done, freed Black people began celebrating their newfound freedom. In December of 1965, slavery was formally abolished when the 13th Amendment was put into place.
A year later in 1866, freed men and women in Texas began organizing what was known then as Jubilee Day on June 19, which went on to become an annual celebration. Juneteenth, or Jubilee Day, was celebrated with prayer services, barbecues, music, and other activities. The tradition soon after spread throughout the rest of the country as more Black people migrated out of Texas.
Resolution for a national holiday
In the year 1979, Texas became the first state to declare Juneteenth an official holiday. Although there is no Juneteenth federal holiday, as of 2019, forty-seven states and the District of Columbia recognize it as a state holiday regardless.
Elected officials, corporate executives, and sports officials are making a big push to recognize Juneteenth as an official U.S. holiday. The movement is being fueled by the civil unrest brought on by the Black Lives Matter protests as well as the nationwide fight to end racial bias and discrimination.
Currently, only Texas, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Oregon, and New York recognize Juneteenth as a paid holiday. Congress hasn’t approved a national holiday since 1983 when they signed off on making Martin Luther King, Jr. Day a federal holiday. However, lawmakers are working hard to change that.
You can play a part in making Juneteenth a federal holiday by signing this petition.
3 ways to observe Juneteenth
Fast forward 165 years later and Juneteenth is still a day to honor the liberation of enslaved people! The celebration of Black culture is just as important today as it was in 1865. Educating ourselves about Black history brings people together, teaches us about inclusion, and lets us honor those who came before us while continuing to fight for total equality today.
After this past year of protesting and educating people about racism in America, Juneteenth is an amazing opportunity to appreciate, educate, and support Black people by partaking in and hosting activities celebrating this day of liberation in America. Here are four ways you can celebrate Juneteenth this year!
1. Find an event in your local area
Check your local area for a Juneteenth event. These are often days filled with parades, street fairs, music, food, and performers! This is a great way to connect with people in your area and experience what the Juneteenth celebration is all about.
2. Support Black-owned businesses
A fun way to celebrate Juneteenth is to shop from Black-owned businesses! Whether you’re in need of skincare, jewelry, or a stylish new outfit, there are plenty of incredible Black-owned businesses you can check out and show your support.
3. Visit a museum or exhibit dedicated to Black culture
Immerse yourself in Black culture and get a better understanding of history by visiting a museum or exhibit. Learn about the incredible history of people like the poet and activist Maya Angelou, politician Shirley Chisholm, and inventor George Washington Carver, just to name a few!
If you can’t find an exhibit near you, you can spend some time learning about their history with virtual exhibits right from home.
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Juneteenth commemorates Black freedom, liberation, and resilience. It’s a time to come together to celebrate the freedom that generations of people have fought to secure.
Education is the birthplace of acceptance and community. When you understand what makes diversity and inclusion so important, you help make the world a better place. So, get out there and make this Juneteenth a fun, educational, and powerful day!