An essentially “hidden” holiday with a story that too many are unaware of, Juneteenth commemorates the end of a practice that defined a dark chapter in the United States’ history—slavery. President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in September of 1862 was a formal declaration of the end of slavery, and went into effect on the first day of 1863 when Lincoln signed it (History.com Editors). The news that slavery had been abolished was not universally delivered by a single speech, however. In fact, it took two whole years after the Proclamation was signed for the news to reach Texas, when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865, bearing the message of emancipation (Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia). Going forward, Texas honored the 19th of June as “Juneteenth”, being the first of the fifty states to do so (Nix). From then on, the June holiday began to hold, and continues to hold today, great significance for many.
What effect does the holiday have today, and how is it celebrated? For many, Juneteenth holds the significance of America’s second independence day (Davis). Celebrations range from religious ceremonies to speeches to vibrant festivals (Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia). According to the Encylopedia Britannica, Juneteenth “is also celebrated outside the United States and is used to recognize the end of slavery as well as to celebrate African American culture and achievements (Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia).” For many, the implications and significance of this holiday range far beyond the commemoration of emancipation.
Incredibly, a piece of legislation that is a breakthrough for the holiday was actually passed during the time when this blog post was written. On Wednesday, June 16th of 2021, three days before the holiday itself, the Senate approved a bill declaring Juneteenth a federal holiday on a unanimous decision (Barrett et al.). The bill was then also approved by the House and President Biden, officially making Juneteenth an observed federal holiday (Karni & Broadwater). This bill is a clear indication of the steps being taken in the United States to commemorate and celebrate emancipation. This bill is also promising in that many individuals may take further steps to learn more about and celebrate Juneteenth and its history, due to its becoming a federal holiday. Parts of this blog post were written on both June 16th and 17th, the days that Congress and the President of the United States approved and signed this historic bill. History may often seem like it happened ages ago, yet such legislation is indicative that we are living through history ourselves.
Barrett et al. “Senate unanimously passes a bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday.” CNN, Cable News Network, originally published 16 June 2021, www.cnn.com/2021/06/15/politics/juneteenth-federal-holiday-senate-vote/index.html.
Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Juneteenth”. Encyclopedia Britannica, originally published 16 July 2008, www.britannica.com/topic/Juneteenth.
Davis, Kenneth C. “Juneteenth, Our Other Independence Day.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, www.smithsonianmag.com/history/juneteenth-our-other-independence-day-16340952/.
History.com Editors. “Emancipation Proclamation.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, originally published 6 Jan. 2020, www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/emancipation-proclamation.
Karni, Annie, and Luke Broadwater. “Biden Signs Juneteenth Bill, Saying ‘All Americans Can Feel the Power of This Day’”. The New York Times. The New York Times, originally published 17 June 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/live/2021/06/17/us/joe-biden.
Nix, Elizabeth. “What is Juneteenth?” History.com. A&E Television Networks, originally published 19 June 2015, www.history.com/news/what-is-juneteenth.