Written by Devyanee Dalmia and Edited by Diya Patel
What is Juneteenth?
Juneteenth is a holiday commemorating the emancipation of slaves in the United States. It is also called Emancipation Day or Juneteenth Independence Day. The name “Juneteenth” references the date of the holiday, combining the words “June” and “nineteenth.”
History of Juneteenth
In 1863, during the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, announcing that more than 3 million slaves living in the Confederacy should be released from captivity. However, it would take more than two years for this news to reach the hands of living African Americans. It was not until June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, that the state finally learned that slavery had been abolished. The former slaves immediately began to celebrate with prayers, banquets, songs, and dances (Juneteenth).
However, in Texas, slavery endured because the country lacked a large-scale presence of Union troops. Many enslavers from outside the Lone Star State had moved there, as they regarded it as a secure haven for slavery. After Union troops arrived in Texas in the spring of 1865, General Granger’s arrival in Galveston that June signaled freedom for Texas’s 250,000 enslaved people. Although emancipation didn’t manifest in a single day for everyone—in a few cases, enslavers withheld their slaves until after harvest season—celebrations broke out amongst newly freed Black people, and Juneteenth was born. That December, slavery in America became officially abolished with the adoption of the thirteenth Amendment. During the following year of 1865, freedmen in Texas prepared what has become the yearly birthday party of "Jubilee Day'' on June 19. In the following decades, Juneteenth commemorations featured music, barbecues, prayer offerings, and other activities, and as black migrants relocated from Texas to different regions of the U.S., Juneteenth culture spread with them. In 1979, Texas became the first state to make Juneteenth an official holiday. Today, forty-seven states recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday, but efforts to make it a national holiday have stalled in Congress (Nix). (Update as of June 19th, 2021: Juneteenth has now become an official national holiday in the US.)
While many individuals use the day to have fun with friends and family, Juneteenth also speaks to a greater purpose; Juneteenth is a time when all Americans can reflect on freedom, civil rights, and African Americans' deliverance from slavery, and many use the day to speak out on prevailing racial problems in our nation. Lambert Odeh, who advocates for greater recognition of Juneteenth as a national holiday, says, “Juneteenth is our day to make noise. Our day to claim what’s ours and be as proud as we want to be. And then we get to do it every day after, because why not?” (Stewart). As more and more people across the country have come to celebrate Juneteenth, its scope and significance have grown, keeping alive the memory of emancipation for African-Americans and fostering an understanding of the price of freedom for America.
“Juneteenth.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 19 April 2021,
www.britannica.com/topic/Juneteenth, Accessed- 25.05.2021
“The Historical Legacy of Juneteenth.” National Museum of African American
History and Culture, 18 June 2020, https://nmaahc.si.edu/blog-post/historical-legacy-juneteenth, Accessed 25.05.21.
Nix, Elizabeth. “What Is Juneteenth?” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 19
June 2015, www.history.com/news/what-is-juneteenth, Accessed 25.05.2021.
Stewart, Kayla. “Celebrating Juneteenth in 2020 Is an Act of Resistance.” Texas
Monthly, 18 June 2020, www.texasmonthly.com/being-texan/celebrating-juneteenth-2020-act-resistance/, Accessed 25.05.2021.