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What to Know About Juneteenth

by CiCi
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Americans will soon celebrate Juneteenth, commemorating the day when the last enslaved people of African descent in Texas were informed of their freedom after the Civil War.

Why is June 19 a Holiday?

Juneteenth, also known as Juneteenth Independence Day, Freedom Day, or Emancipation Day, is celebrated on June 19. This date marks the 1865 announcement by Union troops, under General Gordon Granger, informing the remaining enslaved people in Texas of their emancipation. This declaration, General Order No. 3, came more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which legally freed enslaved people in the Confederate states.

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Despite the Emancipation Proclamation being signed on January 1, 1863, the news did not reach the nearly 250,000 enslaved people in Galveston, Texas until Granger’s arrival on June 19, 1865. Juneteenth has been celebrated by Black communities as America’s second Independence Day for over 150 years.

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Is Juneteenth a Federal Holiday?

In 2021, President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, making it an official federal holiday. This milestone followed years of advocacy, notably by Opal Lee, an educator and activist often referred to as the “grandmother of Juneteenth.” In 2016, Lee walked 1,400 miles from Fort Worth, Texas, to Washington, D.C., to promote awareness of the holiday.

State Recognition of Juneteenth

On a state level, recognition varies. At least 28 states and the District of Columbia legally recognize Juneteenth as a public holiday, providing state government employees a paid day off and often closing state offices.

The First Juneteenth Celebration

The initial Juneteenth celebrations took place in Galveston, Texas, in 1866, featuring concerts, parades, and readings of the Emancipation Proclamation. These commemorations spread across the United States over time, often including parades, street festivals, musical performances, and community cookouts.

Contemporary Celebrations

Modern Juneteenth celebrations continue the traditions of parades, festivals, concerts, and picnics. This year, President Biden will host an early celebratory concert at the White House, featuring performances by artists like Gladys Knight and Patti LaBelle. Additionally, the White House has announced new initiatives to preserve Black history.

Rapper Kendrick Lamar will perform a Juneteenth concert in Los Angeles titled “The Pop Out — Ken and Friends,” which will also be streamed live on Amazon Prime Video and Twitch.

Significance Beyond Celebration

Juneteenth is not just about having a national holiday or a day off work; it is a time to commemorate a significant moment in American history. It also serves as an opportunity to educate the public on racial disparities and engage in community service projects, especially in light of the national dialogue on race reignited by the 2020 murder of George Floyd.

As Juneteenth becomes more universally recognized, it continues to foster a deeper understanding of freedom and equality, reinforcing its significance as a cornerstone of American history and culture.

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