Juneteenth, which is also known as National Juneteenth Independence Day and Emancipation Day, is a federal holiday in the United States, commemorated on June 19th

Juneteenth Flag

The Origins of Juneteenth

On January 1st, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which abolished slavery in the Confederacy, and established that all enslaved people had to be freed.

However, this wasn't an instant or an easy process, and people that were enslaved were not instantly freed. Although the Proclamation outlawed slavery in Confederate states, it was difficult to enforce without the presence of Union troops in those states. 

One of those states was Texas, where slavery had rapidly expanded and was an established institution. Because of its remote and far away location, there wasn't a big presence of Union troops in the state, so slavery was still a reality in Texas, even after the Emancipation Proclamation. This ended on June 19th (the date that gives "Juneteenth" its name), in 1865, when Union troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, took control of the state, and freed all of the remaining enslaved people. 

Juneteenth was first celebrated next year, in 1866, in Texas and other parts of the United States, to commemorate the end of slavery in the country. This makes it the oldest and longest-celebrated African American holiday in the United States. 

The History of Juneteenth

Juneteenth was originally celebrated as "Jubilee Day". The first commemorations happened on June 19, 1866, in Galveston, Texas where African Americans celebrated their newfound freedom by wearing new clothes and gathering to sing songs and spirituals. 

Over the years, celebrations spread across Texas and other states in the country. However, for years during the 20th century, Juneteenth celebrations declined due to the segregationist Jim Crow Laws. During the Great Depression, African Americans migrated from the farms in the South to the cities in the North and tried to revive the commemorations again. Juneteenth gained new momentum during the Civil Rights Movement. 

Statue of the Texas State Legislator Al Edwards holding up the 1979 legislation making Juneteenth a paid Texas state holiday
 Statue of the Texas State Legislator Al Edwards holding up the 1979 legislation making Juneteenth a paid Texas state holiday.

In 1979, a bill was passed in Texas declaring Juneteenth as an official state holiday, which was made official on January 1, 1980. Eventually, other states began recognizing Juneteenth as a holiday, and by 2008 half of the states observed Juneteenth. 

After decades of campaigning for Juneteenth to be recognized as a federal holiday, the Senate passed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act on June 15, 2021. President Joe Biden signed it on June 17, officially making Juneteenth a national observance and a federal holiday in the United States.

Important Facts About Juneteenth

  • The holiday celebratory flag is known as the Juneteenth Flag of Freedom, and it is half red and half blue, with a white star surrounded by another star in the middle. The red, white and blue refer to the colors in the American flag to symbolize that African Americans are true Americans. The middle star represents Texas, while the bursting star around it symbolizes new horizons and freedom.
  • After the original Juneteenth, many former slaves were not happy remaining in Texas, and left the state in big numbers, to find family and make it to the North. This period after Juneteenth is known as "Scatter". 
  • Through the years, Juneteenth has had many names, including Jubilee Day, Freedom Day, Second Independence Day and Cel-Liberation Day. 
  • Four former slaves bought a parcel of land in Houston, Texas, in 1872, and named it Emancipation Park. The purpose of this park was to be a safe place where to celebrate Juneteenth. 
  • Juneteenth celebrations often include oral histories, strawberry soda and barbecues. Families and friends gather together to organize street parties, concerts and parades. 
  • Some cities organize Miss Juneteenth Contests.

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