Juneteenth: What is it; what to know about the holiday that celebrates slavery’s end

For more than 150 years, June 19 has been a day to celebrate the end of slavery in the United States.

Communities across the country will mark the day in 1865 when slaves in Texas learned that they, and all other slaves in the U.S., had been granted freedom.

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Here are a few things to know about Juneteenth.

  • Juneteenth – June 19 – is the day that the last slaves in the U.S. were made aware of their freedom under the Emancipation Proclamation.
  • The Emancipation Proclamation was first issued on Sept. 22, 1862, and enacted Jan. 1, 1863. Slaves in Texas did not know of former President Abraham Lincoln’s declaration until June 19, 1865, when Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger announced the news of the proclamation in Galveston, Texas.
  • The proclamation initially freed only the slaves in the states that left the Union. However, months after the war ended, all slaves were declared free when the 13th Amendment was ratified Dec. 6, 1865.
  • Why did it take 30 months for the news to reach slaves in Texas? First, news traveled slowly in general in the 1860s, but especially when the country was at war. Second, no one was going to enforce a proclamation by Lincoln in a state that had left the Union. Particularly one that concerned slaves.
  • Slaves were urged to stay with their owners. General Order No. 3 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 quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere."

Most ignored that advice.

  • When people heard the news, they began to gather their things and head away from the homes of their former owners. Called the "Scatter," the now-former slaves left to head north or set out to find family they had been separated from.
  • Juneteenth is also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day. The word Juneteenth is a blend of "June" and "nineteenth."
  • Texas was the first state to declare Juneteenth a state holiday. Forty-seven states recognize it as a state holiday now.
  • The first celebration of Juneteenth took place in 1866 on the first anniversary of hearing the news about freedom.
  • Many Juneteenth celebrations include red food and drinks. Foods such as red velvet cake and strawberry soda are often seen at Juneteenth celebrations. Red food is chosen for the meals on that day because red is considered the color of resistance.
  • Juneteenth has its own flag that features a white star on fields of red and blue.
Juneteenth flag with sun shining behind it
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