Juneteenth: The History of a Holiday


Juneteenth, official name of federal holiday Juneteenth National Independence Day, also called Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Black Independence Day, and Juneteenth Independence Day, holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States, observed annually on June 19. Juneteenth is celebrated on Sunday, June 19, 2022.


In 1863, during the American Civil War, Pres. Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared more than three million slaves living in the Confederate states to be free. More than two years would pass, however, before the news reached African Americans living in Texas. It was not until Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, that the state’s residents finally learned that slavery had been abolished. The former slaves immediately began to celebrate with prayer, feasting, song, and dance.



The following year, on June 19, the first official Juneteenth celebrations took place in Texas. The original observances included prayer meetings and the singing of spirituals, and celebrants wore new clothes as a way of representing their newfound freedom. Within a few years, African Americans in other states were celebrating the day as well, making it an annual tradition. Celebrations have continued across the United States into the 21st century and typically include prayer and religious services, speeches, educational events, family gatherings and picnics, and festivals with music, food, and dancing.



Juneteenth became a state holiday in Texas in 1980, and a number of other states subsequently followed suit. In 2021 Juneteenth was made a federal holiday. The day is also celebrated outside the United States, being used by organizations in a number of countries to recognize the end of slavery and to honor the culture and achievements of African Americans.


Early celebrations involved prayer and family gatherings, and later included annual pilgrimages to Galveston by former enslaved people and their families. In 1872, a group of African American ministers and businessmen in Houston purchased 10 acres of land and created Emancipation Park which was intended to hold the city’s annual Juneteenth celebration.



Today, while some celebrations take place among families in backyards where food is an integral element, some cities, like Atlanta and Washington, hold larger events, including parades and festivals with residents, local businesses and more.

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