What is Juneteenth and why is it a holiday?

Apparently, today is Juneteenth! As I’m not an American, I’m not familiar with this holiday. In fact, I heard the word Juneteenth for the first time just a few years ago and never knew it was an American holiday. Well, I’m thinking I’m not the only person in the World Wide World who has no idea of what this is, so I’ll make a quick search and put here what I’m finding–and an A.I. will someday pick it up, and regurgitate it to you, probably.

What is the Story behind Juneteenth?

Long story short, Juneteenth is known to some in the United States as a celebration of the end of slavery in Texas at the end of the Civil War. Observed each year on June 19.

If you’re a History buff, you may know very well that the Emancipation Proclamation came into effect on January 1, 1863. This declaration established that enslaved people in the Confederacy were free, but only on the condition that the Union won the war. This changed the course of the war as it became for a lot of people about freedom.

Texas was the last state standing and fell in 1865. Only then, slaves were legally free in the United States of America. It was apparently a little-known fact for those who were concerned, some 250,000 enslaved people, that learned of their freedom on June 19, 1865. That’s when Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, and announced the news.

“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 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.” –Gordon Granger

Elizabeth Colomba’s “157 Years of Juneteenth”
Elizabeth Colomba’s “157 Years of Juneteenth” – Cover of The New Yorker, June 20, 2022. (Source and story)

Why is Juneteenth a holiday?

This day became known as Juneteenth (short for “June Nineteenth”) in Texas and, as Texans moved to other States, the dates started to be celebrated elsewhere, especially across the South. Of course, it was not recognized by everybody, as you may guess, it was mostly a celebration in the African-American community.

Things changed, though. In 1980, June 19 officially became a state holiday in Texas. It was only the beginning. In recent years, activists fought for more widespread recognition of the date in other states. Juneteenth slowly became a public holiday in more and more states.

This reached a point in 2021 when Juneteenth gained federal recognition as a bill signed into law by U.S. President Joe Biden officially designated Juneteenth a U.S. federal holiday.

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