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

Juneteenth is an unofficial holiday in the United States which has been celebrated every 19 June by the African-American community since 1866.

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

Tomorrow, 19 June, millions of Americans will be celebrating Juneteenth - an unofficial holiday in the United States - one which could soon be made an official, Federal holiday. Juneteenth has been celebrated on 19 June by the African-American community to lesser or greater levels of prominence since 1866. Why that particular day? It harks back to Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation three years earlier in September 1862 – the president’s order changed federal laws to effectively free around 4 million African-American slaves. However, when Lincoln issued the preliminary order to free all of the men, women and children who had been held in slavery, the country was involved in a Civil War – and the law applied only to slaves held in the Confederate slave States of the South. The free states (Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York… etc) had technically abolished slavery much earlier (Congress had outlawed the importation of African the slave trade in 1808) but African-Americans continued to be enslaved in the slave states in the south - Delaware, Kentucky and Texas.

The Union Army enters Texas on 19 June 1865

That all changed forever on 2 June 1865 with the Confederate surrender in Texas. A couple of weeks later on 19 June, the Union Army, led by Major General Gordon Granger entered Texas and read General Order No.3 to the people of Galveston, proclaiming all slaves, around 250,000 in the State, were now free.

General Order No.3

"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. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere."

The following year, celebrations were held on 19 June 1866 and the tradition has continued ever since. Juneteenth festivities originally included a prayer service, a public reading of the Emancipation Proclamation, a feast of barbecued meat, pies and Texan red soda, games, rodeos and dances. Emancipation Day in Texas was officially declared a state holiday since 1979 with the first Juneteenth to be sponsored by the State taking place the following year . Since then, Juneteenth has spread to neighbouring States. Today, all but four - Hawaii, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana, recognize it as a holiday. A resolution to make Juneteenth Independence Day an official, federal holiday was passed by the Senate last year but has yet to be approved by the House.

See also

Juneteenth Day: which States celebrate it and which ones don’t?

Seattle protests: what do protesters want to achieve with CHAZ?

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