What is Juneteenth? Seven Key Historical Facts to Know.

By Lisa McGloiry

This week, President Joe Biden signed a bill into law making Juneteenth the newest federal holiday to be approved since Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983. The bill passed in Congress with a 415 - 14 vote after the Senate unanimously passed the legislation sending it to President Biden for his official signature on June 17, 2021.

Here are six interesting facts about the day and its history.

What is Juneteenth?

Juneteenth, now officially known as Juneteenth National Independence Day commemorates the end of slavery in the United States and the emancipation of black American slaves. 

Why is it called Juneteenth?

Juneteenth is a blending of two words, June and nineteenth. On that day in 1865, Union Army Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger announced the freedom of slaves in Galveston Texas. While the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by President Lincoln two years earlier, in 1863, many black enslaved Americans did not know they had been freed because the law was not enforced.

How is this different from Independence Day?

Even though the United States celebrates our nation’s independence on July 4, black Americans were still considered slaves in 1776. Also, The Declaration of independence did not denounce slavery. Juneteenth is a special day because, on that day, on June 19, 1865, all former slaves living in America, were officially granted freedom.

How many states recognize Juneteenth?

Today, the District of Columbia and 49 states except South Dakota recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday or observe it ceremoniously. Juneteenth is also known as Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, and Second Independence Day.

Why is it significant now?

The spotlight on Juneteenth gained momentum after George Floyd, a Black man, was killed unlawfully by a Minneapolis police officer in 2020. His death sparked peaceful protests worldwide. It also fueled calls to address systemic racism and concerns surrounding police brutality in America. Juneteenth gained special meaning for many Americans looking for a way to honor Black History collectively as a nation. 

How is Juneteenth celebrated?

Juneteenth is celebrated all across our nation to recognize, honor, and commemorate Black culture by having meaningful conversations with family and friends. It's a great way to savor Southern cuisine dishes like barbecue and attend annual parades, street fairs, concerts, and picnics. Many individuals choose to use the time to reflect and also gain more knowledge by watching films, reading books, and listening to readings and roundtables.

Today the Juneteenth flag will fly over many state capitol and city buildings. This particular flag carries much symbolism. Its prominent white star represents the Lone Star state of Texas, accompanied by the red, white, and blue colors of our nation’s flag. These elements serve as a reminder that former slaves and their descendants were and will forever be Americans.