Juneteenth: What to Know About the Freedom Holiday

TheWrap offers a brief history lesson on Freedom Day, which commemorates the abolition of slavery

Last Updated: June 19, 2020 @ 7:46 AM

“Happy Juneteenth!”

The holiday, widely recognized within the African American community, has gained broader recognition in recent years, including in a first-season episode of FX’s “Atlanta,” when Monique, Craig and everyone else in their house celebrated with slave ship decorations and drinks named “plantation master poison.”

This year, after the protests of racial injustice and police brutality in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, many companies have given employees June 19 the day off as a paid holiday.

Juneteenth, also referred to as Freedom Day, commemorates the abolition of slavery on June 19, 1865. Although President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation three years earlier — making slavery illegal by Jan. 1, 1863 — many slaves were still not free.

On that fateful June 19, Union General Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas, and announced that the Civil War was over (the war had actually ended over a month prior, but news traveled slowly back then).

See his speech below.

“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.” 

Back then, Juneteenth became a big celebration for blacks, but was often met with opposition. Public property was often barred from being used for celebratory activities, but as blacks became land owners, property was donated in honor of the landmark date.

Freedom Day celebrations declined in the 1900s because of the Great Depression and textbooks that attributed the end of slavery to the Emancipation Proclamation rather than Juneteenth. However, the civil rights movements in the ’50s and ’60s ignited a greater interest in the holiday.

Nowadays, people still celebrate Juneteenth with festivals, cookouts, family activities or parades.

In 1979, Texas became the first state to establish Juneteenth as a state holiday.