UPDATED: 11:00 a.m. ET, June 18, 2021 —
One of the most important days in Black history has finally been recognized as a national holiday just days before the country was set to celebrate it.
President Joe Biden on Thursday signed a bipartisan bill that officially made Juneteenth, which is also known as Black Liberation Day, a federal holiday. It is the nation’s 12th federal holiday and the first new one since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was signed into law in 1983.
While at the core of things, Juneteenth is a celebration of the emancipation of the last slaves in the United States. But the new national holiday is much deeper than that.
Keep reading to find a few need-to-know facts that we compiled about Juneteenth.
- President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on Sept. 22, 1862, but it took nearly three more years before full emancipation was achieved.
- Nearly two years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, to announce that the Civil War had ended and that slaves were free. Union General Gordon Granger delivered the good news in Galveston, Texas, issuing General Order No. 3 and officially freeing America’s final slaves.
- The end of the war also meant the end of extreme religious persecution, where Blacks in some states like South Carolina were being forced to worship in secret because all-Black churches were outlawed. Since 1865, Black Texans, and others throughout the nation, have celebrated Juneteenth as a commemoration of freedom and an affirmation of Black culture and perseverance.
- On January 1, 1980, Juneteenth became an official state holiday in Texas. African-American state legislator Al Edwards’ bill marked Juneteenth as the first emancipation celebration to receive official state recognition.
- Juneteenth is not a federal holiday, but 43 of the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia recognize it as a ceremonial holiday. There are more than 200 cities in the nation that celebrate Black Independence Day with festivals or other events.
- On June 19, 1963, seven days after Medger Evers was shot outside of his home in Mississippi, he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. The civil rights leader received full military honors. Roy Wilkins, executive director of the national NAACP, said, “Medgar Evers believed in his country; it now remains to be seen whether his country believes in him.”
- June 19 also has significance nearly 100 years after slavery. It is on June 19, 1964, that Civil Rights Act was approved after surviving an 83-day filibuster in the U.S. Senate. The law guaranteed equal access to public accommodations “without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.”
The cultural impact of Juneteenth is a resonant reminder of the country’s ugly past regarding the enslavement of Black people. With the roots of the holiday starting in Texas, the coastal city of Galveston, which served as the theater for the Union’s seizure and possession of the state, still remains the central area where Juneteenth celebrations have continued for decades. Similar celebrations have sprouted throughout the state – and across the country – where celebrants use the day as an opportunity to reflect on the rich history and contribution of African-Americans to the fabric of the country.
Watch a video on Juneteenth here:
Author Ralph Ellison would go on to pen much of his second novel, “Juneteenth,” around the events of the day. And while the book would be released posthumously five years after his death in 1999, a longer and more fleshed-out manuscript was released in 2010 as “Three Days Before the Shooting.”
Because of the oppressive specter of racism that still permeated much of American society, African Americans were barred from celebrating the holiday, especially around the start of the twentieth century. As the years of the Civil Rights Movement began to form, the celebrations would ramp up again across the nation. In 1994, civil rights and church leaders banded together at the Christian Unity Baptist Church in New Orleans to reignite interest in the Juneteenth movement.