What is Juneteenth? During the U.S. Civil War, President Lincoln issued an order to end slavery in the South effective January 1, 1863. Many withheld this news from enslaved people in Confederate-controlled Southern states during the war.
It took two and a half years for news of the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation abolishing slavery in the South to reach enslaved people in Texas. More than two years of bondage when they should have been free. Only the war’s end brought the news to the South.
On June 19, 1865, a Union Army General publicly announced the end of slavery in Galveston, Texas, which was the last state to receive official word that slavery had legally ended. The holiday’s name is a contraction of the month and the actual date, the 19th.
After slavery’s end was publicly announced in Texas, Black Union Soldiers traveled to plantations and farms throughout the state to ensure all slaves knew they were now free. There were more than 250,000 enslaved people in Texas at the time. Juneteenth gave them hope.
The delayed news of freedom that reached enslaved people in Texas two and a half years late has come to symbolize not only emancipation but also the unfortunate fact that full freedom remains long overdue.
Juneteenth has special significance this year. After a year of protests and activism, more and more Americans realize we must better educate ourselves and work in unison to take down unjust barriers to true equality for all people.
As we continue the work of dismantling the legacy of slavery and racial injustice and advancing and actualizing our highest ideals of liberty and equality, several states have made Juneteenth an official holiday, marking the occasion as America’s “Second Independence Day.”
Juneteenth reminds us of the progress still needed to end systemic racism and ensure equal protection of the law. We reflect on our painful history and today’s racial injustice and equity challenges, and commit to pursuing true, lasting freedom for all.
Juneteenth originated in Texas and is now recognized by almost every state in the U.S. People gather in churches, schools, and homes all over the country for the holiday. It celebrates freedom but also reminds us of the remaining work to ensure true liberty and justice for all.
In the United States, people commemorate Juneteenth in both somber and joyful ways. Some communities gather to read the Emancipation Proclamation, pray, and reflect. Others enjoy parades, share stories, and hold community barbecues to celebrate the occasion.
The Juneteenth flag was created by Ben Haith in 1997. The star represents Texas where Juneteenth originated. The starburst and curving line represent new horizons and a better future. The colors remind us that enslaved people and their descendants were and are Americans.
“Celebrating this holiday alongside us and in solidarity with us as Black people is the answer to really healing and to everybody being able to experience the American dream where everyone is honestly liberated.”