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What Is Juneteenth? 5 Things To Know About This Historic American Holiday

By Claire Leaden June 19, 2020

June 19, also known as Juneteenth, Emancipation Day, or Freedom Day, is a day that signifies the end of slavery in America.

155 years ago, on June 19, 1865, Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas to break news that the Civil War had ended and that all those who were enslaved were now free, according to Juneteenth.com

Of course, the holiday has even more significance this year, as it coincides with the ongoing fight for racial justice across the country. For the past 22 days in NYC (and many other cities around the U.S.), people have marched and rallied in the Black Lives Matter movement, fighting against systemic racism against Black people, for much-needed police reforms, and more.

Here are some things to know about the important day, what historian Blair Amadeus Imani calls “a time of remembrance, action and celebration for Black lives.”

What does Juneteenth mean?

Juneteenth combines “June” and “nineteenth” into one word. June 19, 1865 is the day when enslaved people in Texas finally learned about their granted freedom. It was about one month after the Civil War had ended.

What exactly happened on that date?

Union Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston with a group of about 2,000 soldiers, according to the National Museum of African American History & Culture. “The army announced that the more than 250,000 enslaved Black people in the state, were free by executive decree,” they share on their website. “This day came to be known as ‘Juneteenth,’ by the newly freed people in Texas.”

He read General Order Number 3, which started with:

“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.”

Didn’t the Emancipation Proclamation free enslaved peoples two years earlier?

President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on January 1, 1863, and declared every enslaved person in Confederate States was now legally free. But, Texas, the furthest west territory, was still under Confederate control at the time. So, enslaved people there did not receive emancipation until the end of the war nearly two years later. The day celebrates the triumph, of course, but also shows how long it took for that freedom to be implemented in the far-reaches of the Confederacy.

And even when the enslaved populations were freed, most were left without possessions, land or resources to begin new lives with. “The post-emancipation period known as Reconstruction (1865-1877) marked an era of great hope, uncertainty, and struggle for the nation as a whole,” the Museum writes. “Formerly enslaved people immediately sought to reunify families, establish schools, run for political office, push radical legislation and even sue slaveholders for compensation. Given the 200+ years of enslavement, such changes were nothing short of amazing.”

How should I commemorate and celebrate?

This year, there are even more tangible ways to take action to support the Black community than years past. Marches and rallies again systemic racism and police brutality are continuing, and many across the city are centered around Juneteenth today. Here’s a list of 20 taking place across all five boroughs; you can find more at @justiceforgeorgenyc on Instagram.

You can also use it as a day to continue education; this year there are also virtual events, like the NYPL’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is hosting a virtual event examining “the artful negotiations of formerly enslaved African Americans and celebrate the persistent pursuit of freedom.” It will include musicians, historians, and chefs. You can register here.

It is also a day to continue to uplift and celebrate the Black community by supporting Black-owned businesses. Here is our list of 85 Black-owned restaurants in NYC, divided by borough.

Is Juneteenth a national holiday?

No, it is not a federal holiday yet. It is an official state holiday or observance in 46 states now, according to NPR.com, but not as a paid state holiday. Still, that is beginning to change this year. Governor Gavin Newsom has said that the is engaged in discussions about making this a paid state holiday. Musical artist and producer Pharrell Williams has also started a campaign to request that every state governor make Juneteenth a paid holiday for state employees.

See More: Accounts To Follow On Social Media To Keep Learning Once #BlackoutTuesday Is Over

featured image source: Shutterstock