Juneteenth celebrates the end of slavery in America - here’s what you need to know

Friday, 19th June 2020, 12:08 pm
Updated Friday, 19th June 2020, 12:08 pm
Juneteenth is an annual event, which commemorates the ending of slavery in the United States (Photo: Shutterstock)
Juneteenth is an annual event, which commemorates the ending of slavery in the United States (Photo: Shutterstock)

Juneteenth is an annual event, which commemorates the ending of slavery in the United States.

But what is the history behind Juneteenth and what date does it fall?

Here’s everything you need to know.

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What date is Juneteenth?

Juneteenth falls on 19 June each year.

What is Juneteenth?

Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States.

However, the President of the United States, Donald Trump, recently told an interviewer that he was informed about the Juneteenth holiday by one of his own Secret Service agents.

Trump also recently caused anger by scheduling his first public campaign rally since the covid pandemic first began for 19 June - the date of Juneteenth.

In reference to news coverage of the rally date, Trump told The Wall Street Journal, “I did something good: I made Juneteenth very famous.

“It’s actually an important event, an important time. But nobody had ever heard of it.”

What is the history behind it?

It was on 19 June 1865 that the Union soldiers, who were led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that those enslaved were now free.

This was two-and-a-half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which had become official January 1 1863.

Approximately 250,000 slaves in Texas had no idea that their freedom had been secured by the government.

General Granger announced “General Orders No. 3”, which stated: “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”

What was the Emancipation Proclamation?

Abraham Lincoln’s executive order meant immediate freedom for slaves throughout the nation, but since the country was in the midst of the Civil War, those states that had withdrawn from the Union did not adhere to the Proclamation.

Slaves in those states remained unfree.

The Emancipation Proclamation therefore had little impact on the Texans because of the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive Order.

However, the surrender of General Lee in April of 1865 and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment in June, meant that forces were finally strong enough to be able to influence and overcome the resistance.

Did slaves become immediately free in Texas?

Freedom did not happen immediately for everyone in Texas, as some people who should have been freed continued to work through the harvest season because their masters withheld this announcement to reap more wages out of their slaves.

This left many former slaves treated as though they were still in bondage.

Is Juneteenth a legal state holiday?

In 1980, ‘Emancipation Day in Texas’ became a legal state holiday in recognition of Juneteenth.

However, state offices do not completely close, as it is considered a "partial staffing holiday".

The holiday is also referred to as Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, and Black Independence Day.

What is the Juneteenth Flag?

The Juneteenth Flag is red, white and blue, with a bursting star in the middle, being a symbolic representation of the end of slavery in the United States.

The flag was created by activist Ben Haith, founder of the National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation (NJCF). Haith created the flag in 1997 with the help of collaborators, and illustrator Lisa Jeanne Graf brought their vision to life.

According to the National Juneteenth Observation Foundation, the flag was revised in 2000 and seven years later, the date 'June 19, 1865’ was added to the flag. This commemorates the day that General Granger rode into Galveston and told those enslaved that they were now free.

Communities around the United States hold annual flag-raising ceremonies on Juneteenth.

How do people celebrate?

In the 1870s, a group of former slaves pooled 800 dollars together through local churches in order to purchase ten acres of land and create Emancipation Park, to be able to host future Juneteenth celebrations in modern-day Houston.

In the present day, people in the United States usually host cookouts, parades, and other gatherings in order to commemorate.

However, this year people may be celebrating virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic, alongside some socially distanced ceremonies taking place.

For example, in Cincinatti the Virtual Juneteenth Festival will stream on Vimeo and YouTube.

There will also be a Juneteenth Flag Raising Ceremony at Cincinnati's City Hall, but masks and social distancing are encouraged.