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

Juneteenth, which has been celebrated every 19 June by the African-American community since 1866, was made a federal holiday in the United States in 2021.

Why 19 June is known as Juneteenth

The Founders of the United States declared on 4 July 1776: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” However, that only applied to part of the population in reality. Over the centuries we and those that came before us have strived to create a more equal union to right the wrongs, one of those being slavery.

Slavery was once the law of the land in the United States and unfortunately is still a scourge that still plagues the world today. In September 1862, during the US Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln gave his Emancipation Proclamation, which in word freed around 4 million African-American slaves in the Confederate South. However, it would take much more bloodshed and over two years until that became a reality for the last American slaves held in bondage.

Since 1886, to a greater or lesser degree, the African-American community has celebrated 19 June under several names; Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Juneteenth Independence Day and Black Independence Day, or simply Juneteenth. That is the day that the words of the Emancipation Proclamation reached the ears of the last to hear it in Galveston, Texas in 1865.

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. Juneteenth then spread to neighbouring States and around the nation. In 2021, Congress voted to make Juneteenth a federal holiday.