As calls for racial justice and police reform continue, communities throughout the U.S. are gearing up to celebrate Juneteenth this Friday. With what's going on in America, the 155th anniversary of the holiday means even more.
While Americans have celebrated Juneteenth since the late 1800s, many are still unfamiliar with its significance.
Juneteenth, a portmanteau of “June” and “nineteenth,” is an annual holiday that commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S. It's also sometimes called “Juneteenth Independence Day,” “Freedom Day,” or “Emancipation Day.”
Specifically, June 19, 1865 marks the date that Union troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, with news that the Civil War was over and that all remaining slaves in the state were free.
Major General Gordon Granger announced:
“This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property, between former masters and slaves and the connection heretofore existing between them, becomes that between employer and hired labor. The Freedmen are advised to remain at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts; and they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”
The 1865 date is largely symbolic though. President Abraham Lincoln had actually issued the Emancipation Proclamation more than two years prior, on Jan. 1, 1863. It declared “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free,” according to the National Archives.
Even after the general order, the Congressional Research Service says some slave masters withheld the information from their slaves, holding them as slaves through one more harvest season.
Texans began celebrating Juneteenth beginning in 1966, with community-centric events, like parades, cookouts, prayer gatherings, musical performances, and historical readings. Over time, the celebrations made their way into other U.S. communities, where other traditions were developed.
In 1980, Texas became the first state to recognize Juneteenth as a holiday statewide. Since then, 45 other states and Washington D.C. have also commemorated or recognized the holiday. Still, there’s a growing movement calling for June 19 to be made a federal holiday.
Recently, some of the nation’s corporations have begun to recognize Juneteenth as a company holiday. It will be treated similarly to holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving, where businesses will either be closed or workers will be paid extra for working on that day. Target, the National Football League and Nike are some of the largest companies to recently announce this change.