What is Juneteenth?

Juneteenth (June 19), a 155-year-old holiday, is an annual holiday celebrating the emancipation of African-Americans from slavery, ending of slavery in the US. The holiday commemorates a specific date — June 19, 1865 — the day federal troops arrived in Texas to ensure that all enslaved people were freed.

The Emancipation Proclamation

President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, announcing that those who were slaved “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free. But, in reality, this did not instantly free all slaves, as it only applied to places under Confederate control and not to slave-holding border states or rebel areas already under Union control, including secessionist states like Texas, which had left the Union and joined the Confederacy during the Civil War. As many Northern troops advanced into the Confederate South, many slaves fled behind Union lines.

Slavery in Texas

Because Texas was not closely monitored and did not experience a significant presence of Union troops, many slave owners went to Texas with their slaves, and slavery continued there for longer. After the Civil War ended in the Spring of 1965, General Granger’s arrival in Galveston that June signaled freedom for the 250,000 slaves in Texas. His news kicked off widespread celebrations across the state. Slavery was formally abolished after Congress ratified the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution nearly six months later, on Dec. 6, 1865.

The Importance of the Holiday

Freed slaves kicked off the first celebration of Juneteenth in 1866, one year after General Granger brought his message that “the people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”

Juneteenth marks a date of major significance in American history and represents the ways in which freedom for black people have been delayed. It is a reminder that “nobody is free until everybody is free.” Juneteenth should be celebrated as the day when ALL Americans were liberated.

Is Juneteenth a National Holiday?
No. Efforts to make Juneteenth an official federal holiday have fallen short in Congress. Texas was the first state to establish Juneteenth as a state holiday, but it took until 1980 for that bill to go into effect. As of 2020, 47 states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation recognizing Juneteenth as either a state holiday or a day of observance. (Hawaii, North Dakota and South Dakota are the only states that do not recognize this holiday.)

How Juneteenth is Celebrated Today

In 2019, the holiday was celebrated by thousands of people in Houston’s Emancipation Park. As for the holiday’s traditions, celebrations often feature a mixture of religious services and storytelling, with music, dancing, food, picnics, parades, and other jubilant celebrations of black culture. Red is an important color in Juneteenth celebrations because it signifies the struggle and sacrifices made during that time.

We need to acknowledge celebrate and reflect on our history, and it is starting to happen.

  • Twitter Inc. and Square Inc. were the first to make Juneteenth a formal company holiday. They were followed by Vox Media Inc., Nike Inc., the New York Times, J.C. Penney Co., Qatalyst Partners, Spotify Technology SA, Quicken Loans, and the National Football League.
  • Facebook Inc. said it plans to cancel meetings that day for a “day of learning” about the experience of Black Americans.
  • MasterCard said it would give employees the day off and encouraged them to educate themselves about the history of racism in America or volunteer with a civil rights organization.
  • JPMorgan Chase & Co. will close its bank branches early
  • Bank of America Corp. and Citigroup Inc. told staffers they can take a personal day
  • Automakers General Motors Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV are observing a moment of silence.
  • New York State and Virginia gave state workers the day off.

It’s a good start. We can do better. We NEED to do better.




Image credits:

  • This 1919 chromolithographic print commemorates the emancipation proclamation and African American contributions to society. Photograph: Swann Auction Galleries
  • Illustrated print by Thomas Nast depicting life before and after emancipation. Keith Lance/Getty Images



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