June 19 is now officially Juneteenth National Independence Day, a US federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.
Here’s what you need to know about the holiday and its history:
- The day's name is a blending of the words June and nineteenth.
- It commemorates June 19, 1865: the day that Union Army Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas, and told slaves of their emancipation. That day came more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. Even after Lincoln declared all enslaved people free on paper, that hadn't necessarily been the case in practice.
- Juneteenth is also known as Emancipation Day. People across the country celebrate with food and festivities, much like the Fourth of July.
- All but one state, as well as the District of Columbia, recognize the milestone of Black liberation in some shape or form. For example, some companies honor the occasion by giving their employees the day off.
- Despite being celebrated since 1865, it was only until 1980 that Texas became the first state to make Juneteenth a state holiday.
- With Biden’s signature, Juneteenth is the first holiday to be approved since Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which was established in 1983.
- Juneteenth has often been overlooked by non-Black Americans and omitted from history books. However, momentum to recognize the occasion was generated by the Black Lives Matter movement last year.
- Despite certifying Juneteenth as a federal holiday, Black Americans continue to face systematic challenges such as the racial wealth gap, disproportionate incarceration and persistent health disparities. Therefore, activists say the holiday shouldn’t be seen as a substitute for substantive action, but a step in the right direction.