Juneteenth Federal Holiday: History, Significance and Celebration
President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris signed into law a bill establishing Juneteenth National Independence Day, a celebration designating the end of slavery in the United States, as a federal holiday.
“By making Juneteenth a federal holiday, all Americans can feel the power of this day and learn from our history, and celebrate progress, and grapple with the distance we’ve come but the distance we have to travel to,” Biden said during remarks Thursday in the East Room of the White House.
|President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris celebrate the signing of the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law, June 17, 2021. Photo Reuters|
|“Great nations don’t walk away,” Biden added. “We come to terms with the mistakes we’ve made.”|
The law takes effect immediately, and will be celebrated on Friday, June 18, since it is the closest weekday.
History of Juneteenth Federal Holiday
The day's name is a blending of the words June and nineteenth.
It commemorates June 19, 1865: the day that Union Army Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas, and told slaves of their emancipation. That day came more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. Even after Lincoln declared all enslaved people free on paper, that hadn't necessarily been the case in practice.
Juneteenth is also known as Emancipation Day. People across the country celebrate with food and festivities, much like the Fourth of July.
Juneteenth became a state holiday in Texas in 1980, and a number of other states subsequently followed suit. The day is also celebrated outside the United States, with organizations in a number of countries using the day to recognize the end of slavery and to celebrate the culture and achievements of African Americans.
All but one state, as well as the District of Columbia, recognize the milestone of Black liberation in some shape or form. For example, some companies honor the occasion by giving their employees the day off.
Despite being celebrated since 1865, it was only until 1980 that Texas became the first state to make Juneteenth a state holiday.
With Biden’s signature, Juneteenth is the first holiday to be approved since Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which was established in 1983.
Juneteenth has often been overlooked by non-Black Americans and omitted from history books. However, momentum to recognize the occasion was generated by the Black Lives Matter movement last year.
Despite certifying Juneteenth as a federal holiday, Black Americans continue to face systematic challenges such as the racial wealth gap, disproportionate incarceration and persistent health disparities. Therefore, activists say the holiday shouldn’t be seen as a substitute for substantive action, but a step in the right direction.
|Juneteenth has its own flag |
The original Juneteenth flag was created in 1997 by the National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation (NJCF) founder, Ben Haith. While the Juneteenth flag has the same colors as the American flag, it is a unique symbol of American freedom and Black history.
The original red, white and blue design later underwent revisions in the 2000s, and the date June 19, 1865 was added to the flag. According to the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation, the Juneteenth flag includes an exaggerated star of Texas “bursting with new freedom throughout the land.”
|While many states celebrate Juneteenth as a holiday, these are the states that observe it as a paid holiday: |
How to Celebrate Juneteenth Federal Holiday
You can honor Juneteenth and amplify its importance in your own community with the following organizations and virtual opportunities:
The National Museum of African American History & Culture is hosting an online celebration called, Juneteenth: A Celebration of Resistance. According to their website, the virtual viewing spans two days from June 19 to June 20. For added education and awareness, the museum also put together an interactive timeline that walks online users through the history of Juneteenth and its significance today.
Watch online Juneteenth events: Tune in to the virtual Juneteenth music festival or online celebrations and find a listing of local events where you live, like this one.
Order food from a Black-owned restaurant
Support Black restaurant owners in your community by ordering food on Juneteenth and beyond -- here are eight ways to find Black-owned restaurants where you live. Yelp and Uber Eats can help you find these restaurants on their apps.
Black lives matter. Support the cause these eight ways: From making donations to getting more involved in your local community, here are real ideas you can participate in to support the Black Lives Matter movement and antiracism, even from your living room.
Educate yourself and reflect
While slavery ended in 1865, racism persists in countless institutions. Use June 19 as a day to reflect on critical issues that perpetuate discrimination against Black people in America and around the world. Spend the day reading about Juneteenth's history, including how Black families felt after being emancipated. Watch the documentary 13th on Netflix, or engage with other movies, shows, books and podcasts that can help reveal real-world, present-day issues.
Place a sign in your front yard
Raise awareness and show your support for Juneteenth by decorating a sign for your front yard or door. This is a great way to help educate younger kids in your neighborhood who may not know about the holiday.
Celebrate with a barbecue or family meal
Gather your family together to celebrate freedom. Since the pandemic is still a serious concern, make sure you're following your state's guidelines for group gatherings (here are the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guidelines). We recommend social distancing with people outside your household and the wearing of face masks when you aren't actively eating.
|Before Juneteenth became an official federal holiday, 94-year-old Opal Lee was on a mission. |
"I'm not just going to sit and rock, you know?" the determined "Grandmother of Juneteenth" told CNN. "The Lord is going to have to catch me."
Days later, the spirited nonagenarian shouted with delight as she watched Congress pass a bill to make Juneteenth — June 19 — a nationwide holiday commemorating the end of slavery.
"I've got so many different feelings all gurgling up here — I don't know what to call them all," she told CNN affiliate KTVT in Fort Worth, Texas, where she lives.
Right now she plans to savor the moment. But the woman who spent years fighting for Juneteenth stresses there's work left to do to push back against racism.
"We've got all of these disparities that we've got to address and I mean all of them. While we've got some momentum, I hope we can get some of it done. We can have one America if we try," she told KTVT.
|But Juneteenth is much more than a celebration. |
Now, 155 years after the ratification of the 13th Amendment, the recent murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Oluwatoyin Salau, Riah Milton, Dominique Fells, Rayshard Brooks, Duante Wright, Ma'Khia Bryant and sadly many more, have sparked worldwide protests against systemic anti-Black racism, critical dialogue about long-standing racial disparities, and acknowledgment of the overall historical mistreatment of Black Americans.
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