Let’s talk about Juneteenth.

Juneteenth is the oldest celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the U.S. It originated in Galveston, Texas, where enslaved African-Americans were emancipated on June 19, 1865. In recognition of this important event, people in cities and towns across the United States now mark the occasion with celebrations, parades, and more.

Let’s explore the origins of Juneteenth and how it’s celebrated today.

The history of Juneteenth

On January 31, 1865, the 13th Amendment legally abolished slavery in the United States. Less than three months later, on April 9, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered in Appomattox, Virginia. The Civil War was over.

Unfortunately, news of these developments had not reached every plantation, so many men and women in the South were still enslaved. It took months for the happy tidings to spread from plantation to plantation until it reached the deepest parts of the South.

It wasn’t until June 19, 1865 — nearly two and a half years after the fact — that the message of freedom finally arrived in Galveston, along with 2,000 Union troops. The soldiers shared the news of the 13th Amendment and Lee’s surrender, declaring that the 250,000 enslaved black people in the state of Texas were now free. Since then, the day has been known as “Juneteenth,” and has been celebrated across the South and beyond.

Is Juneteenth a national holiday?

The first Juneteenth was celebrated in Texas in 1866, just a year after the emancipation of the state’s slaves. Families gathered for shared celebrations and prayers, and some freed men and women who had since relocated made a pilgrimage back to Galveston.

The celebrations continued to spread across the South, where families gathered year after year to share a time of good food, historical reenactments, songs, and more. It was only in the 1920s that Juneteenth was commemorated throughout the rest of the country. In the 1970s, the day enjoyed another burst in popularity, and by the 21st century, Juneteenth was celebrated in most major cities within the United States.

As of June 2021, Juneteenth is officially recognized as a federal holiday.

How is Juneteenth celebrated?

Juneteenth, sometimes referred to as Emancipation Day or Jubilee Day, is a day to both acknowledge the horrors of slavery and its lingering effects and to commemorate African-American freedom.
Here are just a few ways you can celebrate:
  • Visit a historical site or museum
  • Parades
  • Festivals
  • Musical performances
  • Family gatherings
  • Neighborhood barbecues
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