There’s a growing chorus of Americans calling for Juneteenth to be a national holiday. But what is Juneteenth, and why does it matter?
Juneteenth is June 19th, a day that officially commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. Black Lives Matter protestors are fueling awareness of this date as they ask for criminal justice reform after the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Here’s a look at the history.
On June 19th, 1865, more than two months after the Confederates surrendered at Appomattox, Virginia, a Union general arrived in Texas. General Gordon Granger informed those enslaved in Galveston, Texas, that the Civil War was over, and they were free.
His arrival with the Emancipation Proclamation brought freedom to the last enslaved African Americans, more than two and a half years after it was issued. Many African Americans call it their Independence Day or Emancipation Day to celebrate their true liberation.
The celebration of Emancipation day has grown over the years. Families come together to BBQ and celebrate their lives. In cities like Atlanta and Washington, larger events with parades and festivals are held each year. Galveston remains a popular city for Emancipation Day celebrations. The city usually hosts about 15 events from parades, barbecues, musical performances, and more. Around 10,000 people attend those events annually.
Texas was the first state to designate Juneteenth as a state holiday in 1980 – though it was designated as a “partial staffing” or even “optional” holiday for many workers and companies.
To date, forty-seven other states and Washington D.C. have made some gestures to recognize Juneteenth as a holiday officially. Just recently, New York declared the day a holiday for state employees. Virginia’s Governor is also proposing legislation to make Juneteenth a paid state holiday.
Corporate America is joining in on the calls, too. The NFL is observing Juneteenth with closed league offices. JCPenney told employees to take the day off and celebrate with their families. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced plans to make Juneteenth an annual holiday at Twitter and Square.
Congress hasn’t approved a new national holiday since 1983 when it created Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Now, there are renewed pushes the celebrate the ‘other Independence Day’ nationwide.