What to know about Juneteenth

What to know about Juneteenth

Americans will soon celebrate Juneteenth to mark when enslaved people of African descent in Texas learned of their freedom after the Civil War, the last people to be emancipated.

While the holiday is officially marked on June 19, early celebrations have already begun.

Here’s what to know about Juneteenth:

Why is June 19 a holiday?

The holiday, also called Juneteenth Independence Day, Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, is celebrated on June 19, in reference to the 1865 date on which Union troops informed the remaining enslaved people they were emancipated.

On June 19, 1865, Gordon Granger issued General Order No. 3, which declared, “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”

This was more than two years after President Lincoln legally freed the enslaved people in states that had seceded from the Union with the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. The nearly 250,000 enslaved people in Galveston, however, had no idea they had been freed until Granger’s General Order No. 3.

Juneteenth has been celebrated as America’s second Independence Day by Black communities for more than one-and-a-half centuries. After becoming a federal holiday in 2021, it has become more universally recognized beyond the Black community.

Is Juneteenth a federal holiday? A state holiday?

President Biden signed into law the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act in 2021, making the centuries-old celebration an official federal holiday.

His signature came after a longtime push from Opal Lee, an educator and activist who has been dubbed the “grandmother of Juneteenth.” In 2016, she walked 1,400 miles from Fort Worth, Texas, to Washington, D.C., to bring attention to the holiday.

She visited the White House in 2021 to attend Biden’s bill signing to make Juneteenth a national holiday.

As a result, many people now get the day off work or school as places across the country host street festivals, concerts, fairs and more.

On a state level, governments differ on whether to make it a state holiday. At least 28 states and the District of Columbia legally recognize Juneteenth as a public holiday, according to a Pew Research Center analysis. This means state government offices are closed, and state workers have a paid day off.

Where was the first Juneteenth celebration? 

The Juneteenth celebrations began in Galveston and the areas surrounding it in Texas the year following Granger’s 1865 order. The celebrations included concerts, parades and readings of the Emancipation Proclamation.

The commemoration eventually moved elsewhere in the United States, often recognized with parades, street festivals, musical performances and cookouts.

As with many holidays, Juneteenth also has seen commercialism, with retailers, museums and other places capitalizing on the day with themed merchandise and party ware.

The national debate over race was refueled by the 2020 murder of George Floyd, nearly a year before Biden made Juneteenth a federal holiday. Some advocates have framed the holiday as a way to educate the public on racial disparities and engage in community service projects to help in-need areas.

How is Juneteenth being celebrated?

The traditions of parades, festivals, concerts and picnics have persisted throughout the years and are on deck to continue this year.

President Biden will host an early celebratory concert Monday night on the White House South Lawn, featuring singers Gladys Knight, Patti LaBelle and a host of other performers.

The White House on Monday announced new initiatives to preserve Black history ahead of the official holiday.

“It’s not about a national holiday or a day off work, it really is to commemorate a moment in time, in our history,” Neera Tanden, domestic policy adviser to the president, said from the White House on Monday.

Rapper Kendrick Lamar announced last week he will perform a concert in Los Angeles on Juneteenth to mark the event. The concert, titled “The Pop Out — Ken and Friends,” will also be streamed live on Amazon Prime Video and the Amazon Music channel on Twitch.

Copyright 2024 Nexstar Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to The Hill.