Updated June 18,2021
Juneteenth (June Nineteenth) honors the end of slavery in the United States, here’s what you need to know about the holiday’s history and why it is important in the United States.
The Emancipation Proclamation became official on January 1, 1863, and had little impact in Texas due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive Order.
However, two and a half years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, on June 19, 1865, federal troops led by U.S. General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, to take control of the state and ensure that all enslaved people be freed.
U.S. General Gordon Granger stood on Texas soil and read General Orders 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 rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer.”
Emancipation did not happen overnight for everyone, but celebrations began among newly freed black people, and Juneteenth was born.
That December of 1865, the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolished slavery in the United States.
The year following 1865, freedmen in Texas organized the first of what became the annual celebration of “Jubilee Day” on June 19. Juneteenth celebrations often feature music, barbecues, prayer services, and other activities, and as black people migrated from Texas to other parts of the country, the Juneteenth tradition spread.
In 1979, through the work of Al Edwards, an African American state legislator, Texas became the first state to make Juneteenth an official holiday. Although a majority of the states observe Juneteenth, only a couple of states (outside of Texas) recognize Juneteenth as a paid state holiday.
On June 15, 2021, the Senate unanimously passed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, establishing Juneteenth as a federal holiday; it subsequently passed through the House of Representatives by a 415–14 vote on June 16 making Juenteenth a federal holiday in the United States.