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Juneteenth Is Now An Official Federal Holiday

Ana de la Cámara Ana de la Cámara

Juneteenth Is Now An Official Federal Holiday

President Joe Biden signed a bill establishing Juneteenth as a federal holiday.

“I have to say to you, I’ve only been President for several months, but I think this will go down, for me, as one of the greatest honors I will have as President,” President Joe Biden said during a signing ceremony at the White House.

Juneteenth commemorates June 19th, 1865. When Union General Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas, to deliver the message that the last enslaved Americans were finally free! The bill unanimously passed through the Senate and then with an overwhelming majority through the House. Juneteenth National Independence Day will become only the 12th legal public holiday and the first new federal holiday in almost 40 years. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was the last new federal holiday signed into law back in 1983 by President Ronald Reagan.

The timing of this could not be more poignant given the ongoing fight for racial justice across the country. The Black Lives Matter movement has galvanized people from all walks of life to march together. They are fighting against systemic racism against Black people, for much-needed police reforms, and beyond.

Here are some things to know about the important day, what historian Blair Amadeus Imani calls “a time of remembrance, action, and celebration for Black lives.”

What does Juneteenth mean?

Juneteenth combines “June” and “nineteenth” into one word. June 19th, 1865, is the day when enslaved people in Texas finally learned about their granted freedom. It was about one month after the Civil War had ended.

What exactly happened on that date?

Union Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston with a group of about 2,000 soldiers, according to the National Museum of African American History & Culture. “The army announced that the more than 250,000 enslaved Black people in the state were free by executive decree,” they share on their website. “This day came to be known as ‘Juneteenth,’ by the newly freed people in Texas.”

He read General Order Number 3, which started with:

“The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer.”

Didn’t the Emancipation Proclamation free enslaved peoples two years earlier?

President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on January 1st, 1863. It declared every enslaved person in the Confederate States was now legally free. But, Texas, the furthest west territory, was still under Confederate control at the time. So, enslaved people there did not receive emancipation until the end of the war nearly two years later. The day celebrates the triumph, of course. Still, it also shows how long it took for that freedom to be implemented in the far reaches of the Confederacy.

And even when the enslaved populations were freed, most were left without possessions, land, or resources they needed to begin new lives. “The post-emancipation period known as Reconstruction (1865-1877) marked an era of great hope, uncertainty, and struggle for the nation as a whole,” the Museum writes. “Formerly enslaved people immediately sought to reunify families, establish schools, run for political office, push radical legislation and even sue slaveholders for compensation. Given the 200+ years of enslavement, such changes were nothing short of amazing.”

How should I commemorate and celebrate?

You can use it as a day to continue your education on the history of African Americans and continue to uplift and celebrate the Black community by supporting Black-owned businesses.

featured image source: Shutterstock