On June 19, Americans will celebrate Juneteenth, a holiday commemorating the day news of the Emancipation Proclamation reached Texas, with block parties, cookouts and educational events.
While Juneteenth celebrates the Emancipation Proclamation, which only freed slaves in the South, the 13th Amendment is what officially ended slavery in the U.S.
The holiday is looking a little different from most years.
Millions of Americans took to the streets to protest racial injustice last summer in response to the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black Americans. The protest movement sparked an ongoing dialogue around systemic racism and police brutality.
The protests also raised attention for the importance of Juneteenth as companies including Nike, Twitter and Uber are giving employees paid days off.
With 144 million Americans fully vaccinated against COVID-19, many will gather in person after celebrating virtually in 2020.
Here’s what you need to know about the history of Juneteenth and what celebrations are taking place this year.
What is Juneteenth?
On June 19, 1865, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger informed a reluctant community in Galveston, Texas, that President Abraham Lincoln had freed enslaved people in rebel states two and a half years earlier. He pressed locals to comply with the directive.
Although Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation became effective Jan. 1, 1863, people who owned slaveswere responsible for telling them that they were free, and some ignored the order until Union troops arrived to enforce it, according to Cliff Robinson, founder of Juneteenth.com. Texas was the last Confederate state to have the proclamation announced.
Though the story of Texas’ emancipation is the most widely known, other significant events in the history of emancipation took place on and around that date. Steve Williams, president of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation, said the first known Juneteenth celebrations began in 1866 and spread across the country as African Americans migrated to new cities.
Today, 48 states and Washington, D.C., recognize Juneteenth as either a state holiday or ceremonial holiday. Hawaii passed legislation on April 27 to recognize the holiday, but it is unclear whether Hawaii’s governor signed the bill into law. South Dakota still has not recognized the holiday.
Activists have pushed for wider recognition, including a designation as a national holiday and an acknowledgment by Wall Street and the New York Stock Exchange. In pop culture, Juneteenth celebrations have been seen in TV shows including “Black-ish” and “Atlanta.”
What is Juneteenth’s flag?
The original Juneteenth flag was created in 1997 by Ben Haith, the founder of the National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation. The flag has a blue and red stripe with a white star in the middle, an outline surrounding the star, and an arc that extends across the width of the flag.
According to Oprah Daily, the star in the middle is supposed to represent the “Lone Star State” of Texas where Juneteenth was first celebrated. The arc is supposed to symbolize a new horizon of opportunities and futures for the Black community, and the outline surrounding the star is supposed to mean a new beginning for all. The colors on the flag are the same as the U.S. flag to show that former enslaved people and their descendants are free Americans, too.
The flag underwent revisions in 2000, according to the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation, and the date “June 19, 1865,” was added in 2007.
Haith initiated the first Juneteenth flag-raising ceremony in Boston in 2000. Flag-raising ceremonies have become an essential part of the holiday instates including Tennessee and Texas.
What celebrations are taking place?
People across the country will be celebrating Juneteenth with parties, music, festivals and parades.
New York on Friday will kick off its annual Juneteenth three-day summit, where 5,000 people attended in person in 2019, and 20,000 attended virtually in 2020. The festival will feature talent show performers, a health and wellness screening center, educational activities for children and much more.
The Smithsonian Museum of African American Culture and History in Washington, D.C., will hold presentations on the history and significance of Juneteenth and the stories that celebrate the wisdom of elders.
In addition to celebrations, Juneteenth is a time for reflection and conversation. You can listen to dialogue centered around race and equality and contribute to the conversation in a positive way. Supporting Black-owned businesses, listening to Black artists, reading books written by Black poets and authors, and donating to organizations are other ways to celebrate Juneteenth.
By Sudiksha Kochi and N’dea Yancey-Bragg | USA TODAY