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Juneteenth Day celebration in the United States: which States celebrate it and which ones don’t?

Millions of Americans will be taking part in Juneteenth Day tomorrow – An official holida in 46 States but could soon be declared a Federal public holiday.

Juneteenth Day celebration in the United States: which States celebrate it and which ones don’t?
CALLAGHAN O'HARE REUTERS

Millions of Americans will be taking part in Juneteenth Day tomorrow. Juneteenth is a celebration of the end of slavery in the United States and was celebrated for the first time in 1866, on the first anniversary of the Union Army’s entrance into Texas when Major General Gordon Granger read out General Order No.3 to the people of Galveston, declaring all slaves to be set free.

Juneteenth starts in Texas

Since 1866, Juneteenth has been celebrated in Texas on 19 June every year, on different scales. The original festivities originally consisted of a prayer service, a public reading of the Emancipation Proclamation, a public feast with barbecued food and Texan red soda, games, rodeos and dances. Emancipation Day in Texas was officially declared a state holiday in 1979 with the first state-sponsored Juneteenth event taking place the following year, 1980.

Until fairly recently, Juneteenth had been a relatively localised event, with some parts in the north not quite understanding the history and tradition behind it. In the early years, the event started to gradually spread to neighbouring States, such as Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana. Other states started to follow suit as Texan African-Americans migrated to other parts of the country – Emancipation Day started to be celebrated in Alabama, Florida and California.

Mr Bojangles at Juneteenth in 1937

Juneteenth celebrations declined during World War II but with peace declared, it returned in 1950 on a larger scale, held at the State Fair in Dallas with gatherings of up to 200,000. One such event announced an appearance by Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson – the world’s greatest tap dancer (who Nina Simone paid tribute to with her version of the Jerry Jeff Walker song, Mr Bojangles).

As more African-Americans migrated north, Juneteenth started to become an annual date in the diary for other States although some maintained their own Emancipation Day celebrations. By the end of the 1980s, Juneteenth had become an event in California, Wisconsin, Illinois, Georgia, and Washington, D.C.

Last year, Pennsylvania became the last State to officially recognise Juneteenth as a holiday. Today, just four States - Hawaii, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana, do not recognize Juneteenth as an official holiday although celebrations – picnics, dances and parades do take place in all four regions. A resolution to make Juneteenth Independence Day an official, federal holiday was passed by the Senate in 2019 but has yet to be approved by the House.

See also

Juneteenth Day celebration: What is it and why is it celebrated on 19 June?