This year is the 155th anniversary of the holiday, which marks the end of slavery in the United States

By Andrea Wurzburger
June 19, 2020 08:00 AM
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For 155 years, the Black community has celebrated Juneteenth, a day that marks the end of slavery and the independence of countless enslaved people that actually came two-and-a-half years after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

The holiday, also known as Black Independence Day, isn't widely taught in schools. As a growing list of corporations announce that they will observe Juneteenth as a company holiday — and calls to make it a national holiday grow louder — here are some things that you should know.

What Is Juneteenth?

The longest-running African-American holiday in the United States, Juneteenth is short for June Nineteenth, and marks the day that slavery ended in America.

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The Emancipation Proclamation, which abolished slavery, was issued by Abraham Lincoln on Jan. 1, 1863, but it took until 1865 for the last enslaved people to be freed. That's because the proclamation only applied to places under Confederate control, but people in Confederate states weren't the only ones who enslaved people of African descent. In fact, there were border states and rebel territories that continued to keep enslaved people. Texas, as a result, actually became a hotspot for enslavers who fled their states with the people they were enslaving.

On June 19, 1865, federal troops, led by General Gordon Granger, arrived in Galveston, Texas, and took control of the state, marking the official end of slavery as the state's 250,000 enslaved people were freed.

The year 2020 marks the 155th anniversary of the holiday.

Was Juneteenth the End of Slavery?

Although General Granger announced that all enslaved people were to be freed, enslavers and plantation owners were left to announce the news and often waited until after the harvest season or until a government official came to enforce the proclamation themselves.

Because the Emancipation Proclamation also did not apply to states in the Union, remaining enslaved people were not liberated until the 13th amendment was ratified on Dec. 18, 1865.

Even after the ratification of the 13th amendment, African-Americans were often forced into other forms of servitude and a new type of slavery.

When Was the First Juneteenth Celebration?

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In 1866, the first Juneteenth was celebrated in Texas and was known as "Freedom Day" and then "Jubilee Day." It included prayer services, barbecues, music and celebrations that eventually spread across the country as the newly freed Black people moved throughout the nation.

Is Juneteenth a National Holiday?

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Texas was the first state to recognized Juneteenth as an official state holiday in 1979. Today, 47 states have declared June 19 a state holiday, though national recognition of the holiday has yet to occur.

In 2019, the United States Senate passed a resolution recognizing the day as "Juneteenth Independence Day," but the House has not approved it. North Dakota, South Dakota and Hawaii do not recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday.

How Can I Celebrate Juneteenth in 2020?

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, large gatherings are not an option for many, so here are some ways you can participate in Juneteenth celebrations.

  • Frequent or donate to a small, Black-owned business.
  • Attend a virtual gathering, whether it's the Juneteenth Virtual Music Festival, a virtual celebration put on by a museum or your local library, or a virtual shopping event to support Black-owned business.
  • If the weather's nice, have a small, social distancing gathering with a small group of friends or family.
  • Donate to causes that help fight racial injustice like:
    • Campaign Zero, which works to end police brutality in America through research-proven strategies.
    • ColorofChange.org, which works to make the government more responsive to racial disparities.
    • National Cares Mentoring Movement, which provides social and academic support to help Black youth succeed in college and beyond.