“Juneteenth” — a portmanteau of the words “June” and “nineteenth” — commemorates June 19, 1865. On this day, Union Army Major General Gordon Granger, who had arrived in Galveston, Texas with 2,000 troops, delivered General Order Number 3, announcing the end of slavery: “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”
Almost 2½ years earlier, on January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation; however, many enslavers continued to keep Black people captive.
Juneteenth celebrates the end of slavery and is one of the earliest continuously observed holidays that African Americans established in the United States. Over the years, it has also been called Black Independence Day, Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, and Juneteenth Independence Day.
The first Juneteenth celebrations were held in Texas and doubled as political rallies to educate freed Black Americans about their voting rights. Soon these events evolved into festivities with parades, musical performances, and picnics. Black communities purchased tracts of land for Juneteenth celebrations, and these places were commonly called “Emancipation Park.” People moving from Texas to other parts of the United States brought Juneteenth celebrations with them.
On June 17, 2021, President Biden signed legislation that established “Juneteenth National Independence Day” as a national holiday — the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Day had been designated in 1983. At the signing ceremony, President Biden stated:
“Juneteenth marks both the long, hard night of slavery and subjugation, and a promise of a brighter morning to come.“
Juneteenth is celebrated throughout the country with family reunions, music and literature festivals, art exhibits, ball games, fireworks, and barbecues, with Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Minneapolis being home to some of the largest festivities.