Juneteenth: A Holiday That Is Evolving Alongside the Nation 

It has been called our country’s second independence day.  Observed by African-Americans since the late 1800s, Juneteenth commemorates the day news of the Emancipation Proclamation finally reached Texas. But until recently, this annual celebration of freedom was not well known to most Americans.  However, nationwide protests over the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black Americans, a growing commitment to understanding racial injustice, and the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement have brought the holiday to a new level of prominence. 

As we approach Juneteenth 2021, here’s what you should know:  

Is Juneteenth an official holiday in the United States?

 In 1979, Texas was the first state to make Juneteenth an official holiday. Today, 48 states and Washington DC recognize Juneteenth as either a state or ceremonial holiday.  

On June 18, 2021President Biden signed into law a measure that makes Juneteenth the nation’s 11th federal holiday.

What’s the history behind the holiday?

On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that “all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.”   

But not everyone heard the news. 

In Texas, it would be more than two years before enslaved African-Americans found out that they were free. 

Historians offer different explanations for the long delay. But on June 19, 1865, Union Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston TX and announced General Order No. 3 with these words:  

“The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer.”   

Where does the name “Juneteenth” come from?

Juneteenth is a combination of June and 19th. The holiday is also known as Juneteenth Independence Day, Emancipation Day, and Freedom Day.  

 Where does the country stand around Juneteenth?

According to a Gallup poll taken May 18-23, 2021: 

– Nearly 70% of Black Americans say they have at least some knowledge about the holiday, compared to 31% of white Americans.  

– Roughly half (49%) of all Americans said they believe Juneteenth should be taught in public schools.  

How is Juneteenth celebrated?

Traditionally, with music, dance, picnics, prayers, and parades. 

In the early years, little interest existed outside the African American for Juneteenth celebrations. Early resistance to the holiday went as far as barring the use of public property for Juneteenth festivities.  

The Poor Peoples March to Washington D.C., organized after Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, gave protesters from across the country the opportunity to gather and disseminate the traditions of Juneteenth to areas where it was lesser known. The organizers decided to end the march on June 19, 1968.  

This year, as parts of the country ease COVID restrictions, cities like New York City have big plans for Juneteenth weekend including a three day summit to celebrate the holiday.  

The Smithsonian is offering a panel discussion on the origins of Juneteenth along with the historical and current political significance of the holiday.  

Juneteenth UnityFest is a virtual festival that will showcase musical performances, films, stand-up, storytelling and appearances by civic leaders and pop culture influencers.   

Here are a few more ways you can participate in the spirit of Juneteenth celebrations either in person or from home:

– Find Juneteenth events in your local area.  

– Support Black-owned businesses. There are various resources to help you find businesses to support like this one. 

– Read books by Black poets and authors. Here are 10 Black authors that everyone should read. 

– Teach your friends and family members of all ages about the history of Juneteenth. This video from PBS Learning Media offers a kid-friendly lesson about the significance of Juneteenth .

– For your educational viewing,  in this episode of The African Americans: Many Rivers To Cross, Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. outlines a critical point in time over which the Civil War ended, the June 19th, 1865 announcement of the end of slavery was made, and into Reconstruction. You can stream the entire series online or on the PBS Video App now. 

The end of slavery is not the end of disenfranchisement of African Americans in the United States. “Against All Odds: The Fight for the Black Middle Class” shows the harsh and often brutal discrimination that has made it extremely difficult for African-Americans to establish a middle-class standard of living, while also exploring the often heroic efforts of Black families to pursue the American Dream in the face of unrelenting barriers.