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The significance of June 19, or ‘Juneteenth’4 min read

June 20, 2022 3 min read

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The significance of June 19, or ‘Juneteenth’4 min read

Reading Time: 3 minutes

June 19 — seems like any other day of the year. The middle of the month of June, and for those of us in India, it is the start of the monsoon season. However, for the African American community in the US, this day is incredibly special. Let’s understand why…

June 19, or Juneteenth, is an annual recognition of the end of slavery in the United States after the Civil War. It has been celebrated by African Americans since the late 1800s.

President Joe Biden officially recognised this day in 2020 and marked Juneteenth as a federal holiday. This action was taken after there was renewed interest in the day being officially recognised in the form of Black Lives Matter protests.

How it all began…

A newspaper clipping of the official order to free all slaves. Photo: Wiki Commons

On June 19, 1865, Gordon Granger (the man in the above image), a Union general, arrived in Galveston, Texas, to inform enslaved African Americans of their freedom and that the Civil War had ended. General Granger’s announcement put into effect the Emancipation Proclamation. The holiday is also called ‘Juneteenth Independence Day’, ‘Freedom Day’ or ‘Emancipation Day’.

How is it celebrated?

In the early days, celebrations involved prayers and family gatherings, and later included annual pilgrimages to Galveston by former enslaved people and their families, according to Juneteenth.com.

Slavery in North America

The trans-Atlantic slave trade, which began as early as the 15th century, introduced a system of slavery that was commercialised and based entirely on which race one belonged to. Enslaved people were seen not as people at all, but as commodities to be bought, sold and exploited. Though people of African descent — free and enslaved — were present in North America as early as the 1500s, the sale of the 20-odd African people in the year 1619 set the course for what would become slavery in the United States.

In 1872, a group of African American ministers and businessmen in Houston, Texas, purchased 10 acres of land and created Emancipation Park which was intended to hold the city’s annual Juneteenth celebration. Today, festivals and parades are organised among communities and local businesses to keep the spirit of the holiday alive. Unfortunately, the last two years have seen few or no celebrations due to the pandemic, but things are looking up once again.

Becoming a national holiday…

Texas became the first state in 1980 to declare Juneteenth as a holiday. All 50 states of the US and the District of Columbia now recognise the day in some form.

Things changed drastically in the wake of the nationwide protests against police brutality in 2020. (Read our article on the Black Lives Movement if you want to learn about what triggered the protests.) These protests  made the push for federal recognition of Juneteenth stronger, helping it gain new momentum.

President Joe Biden with Juneteenth activists. Photo: AP

On June 17, 2021, President Biden signed the bill into law, making Juneteenth the 11th holiday recognised by the federal government.

The law went into effect immediately, and the first federal Juneteenth holiday was celebrated the next day.


Sources: New York Times, NPR

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