Juneteenth is an annual holiday that occurs on June 19th and is observed in the United States. It is considered to be one of the oldest celebrations of the abolition of slavery in the world. Up until 2021, this holiday wasn’t an official government holiday in any U.S. state, or under the federal government, but that changed in 2021 when U.S. President Joe Biden signed bipartisan legislation making it an official federal holiday every year.
History of Juneteenth
The history of Juneteenth can be traced all the way back to June 19th of 1865. This is when the Union Army, led by Major General Gordon Granger, arrived in Galveston, Texas with news that the Civil War had ended and that all former slaves were now free.
Although President Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, slavery hadn’t ended in Texas because there weren’t enough Union soldiers in the state to enforce the new order. However, the sound defeat of General Lee in April of that year and the arrival of the Union soldiers under Granger strengthened the forces sufficiently enough to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation.
While the original reason why Texas was over two years behind in freeing slaves is lost to the fog of time. However, there are a few stories that have been passed down through the generations to explain the delay. The first story tells of a messenger who was on his way to Texas to deliver the order of freedom when he was captured and murdered.
Another possibility is that the plantations ignored the order so they could maintain their free working force. On June 19th, 1865, Major General Granger read General Order Number 3 to the people of Texas. This order stated: “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 free laborer.” Reaction to this order by the former slaves was as varied as you could imagine.
Some of the slaves stayed on under their former masters in a working capacity, while others left immediately after the order was read. Some of the headed North and others headed to other parts of the South looking for family members they may have been separated.
As more and more families united, they remembered fondly the day they acquired their freedom and began to celebrate it as Juneteenth. The day gained further prominence during the Civil Rights Movement. For many years, Juneteenth was celebrated as an unofficial holiday in many states.
That meant that most state offices, businesses, and other organizations remained open on this day. In 1980, it had become established as a State holiday in Texas. Several states followed, but it still was not an official federal holiday. That changed on June 17th, 2021 when U.S. President Biden signed the Juneteenth Independence Day Act into law.
This bill had been previously passed by the U.S. House with a vote of 415 to 14 members and then ratified by the Senate. The President signed it in an official ceremony in June of 2021.
Juneteenth Customs & Celebrations
Juneteenth is celebrated in a variety of different ways. One of the most traditional ways to celebrate it is by having a BBQ. Meats such as pork and beef are often cooked up and sometimes it is served with strawberry pop. People also fish and engage in sports such as baseball and attend rodeos.
At larger events, guest speakers will be brought in to give inspirational speeches and elders will tell stories of their past experiences. At most events, prayers are also a major component of this celebration.
Because it’s a federal holiday, Federal and State offices are closed on this day, as are banks. Most businesses will remain open on this day, however, with only a few closing to celebrate this day.