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Juneteenth: 10 things you need to know

What is Juneteenth? It's a symbolic date representing African American freedom from slavery. Here's everything you need to know about the history behind Juneteenth.

WASHINGTON — Juneteenth, also known as African American Emancipation Day, is the commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States.

Here are 10 things you need to know about the occasion:

What is Juneteenth?

It's a symbolic date representing African American freedom from slavery.

The end of slavery is often recognized as when the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by Abraham Lincoln in 1863; however, Juneteenth recognizes when the last slaves were actually told about the president's order.

On June 19, 1865, two and half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, and announced the end of the Civil War and the end of slavery.

Granger read General Order No. 3 after his arrival.

What did General Order No. 3 say?

Major General Granger read General Order No. 3 to the people of Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1863. It reads:

"The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property, between former masters and slaves and the connection heretofore existing between them, becomes that between employer and hired labor. The Freedmen are advised to remain at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts; and they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere."

Why is it called Juneteenth?

The word Juneteenth is a combination of the month and date that the holiday is observed, on June 19.

What is Juneteenth celebrating?

Juneteenth celebrates the end of slavery in the United States.

What is the Emancipation Proclamation?

President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. It declared "that all persons held as slaves" within the southern states that  seceded from the United States "are, and henceforward shall be free."

According to the National Archives, the document did not explicitly end slavery across the nation, but it did "fundamentally transformed the character of the war."

It wasn't until 1865 when the Thirteenth Amendment was added to the U.S. Consitution that slavery was abolished.

The 13th Amendment, Section 1 reads:

"Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."

What does the Juneteenth flag symbolize?

The Juneteenth Flag was first created in 1997 by the former National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation Massachusetts Juneteenth State Director and Founder Ben Haith. However, in 2000 the flag was revised to what we know today.

The flag features a 12-pointed star with a white 5-pointed star inside it. They appear on top of a blue and red background. 

Credit: hamara - stock.adobe.com
The Juneteenth Flag

The National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation says the star on the flag represents Texas with the burst being the new freedom throughout the land over the horizon, hence the arch of red.

The flag was created with the American red, white and blue colors as a "symbol that gives all Americans the opportunity to recognize American freedom and African American History," the National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation said. 

Which states recognize Juneteenth?

In total, 49 states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation recognizing it as a holiday or observance, while a handful made it a paid holiday, according to the Congressional Research Service. The governor of Hawaii on Wednesday signed legislation designating June 19 as a day commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. South Dakota still has not recognized the holiday.

Is Juneteenth a federal holiday?

Yes, Juneteenth is a federal holiday.

On Tuesday the U.S. Senate voted by unanimous consent agreement to pass the "Juneteenth National Independence Day Act," to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. Now the bill heads to the Democratic-led House, where it will likely be approved, though the timing on that is still uncertain, as the Washington Post noted. On Wednesday, the House passed the legislation.

On Thursday at 3:30 p.m. ET, President Joe Biden signed it into law.

“This is a day of profound weight and profound power, a day in which we remember the moral stain, the terrible toll that slavery took on the country and continues to take,” Biden said.

Which state first recognized Juneteenth?

Texans celebrated Juneteenth beginning in 1866, according to the Congressional Research Service. However, it wasn't until January 1, 1980, that Juneteenth officially became a Texas state holiday.

How was Juneteenth first celebrated?

The first June 19 celebration was in 1866, according to the Texas State Library and Archives Commission. African Americans celebrated with prayer services, speakers with inspirational messages, reading of the Emancipation Proclamation, stories from former slaves, food, red soda water, games, rodeos, and dances.

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