What is Juneteenth? The history behind America's other Independence Day

Yi-Jin Yu

President Donald Trump has rescheduled a presidential reelection campaign rally from June 19, the same day as Juneteenth, to June 20, after he faced backlash for the rally's date and location, Tulsa, Oklahoma, the site of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre against the city's Black residents. California Rep. Karen Bass and Texas Rep. Al Green have both called it a "slap in the face" to Black Americans. Here's the significance and history behind the holiday.

When is Juneteenth?

Juneteenth, a portmanteau of June and nineteenth, is an annual celebration marking the end of the slavery in the U.S. The holiday commemorates a specific date — June 19, 1865, the day many slaves in Texas learned they had been freed.

JUNETEENTH CELEBRATION (Joe Amon / Denver Post via Getty Images)

What is Juneteenth?

President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, announcing that slaves “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free,” but the proclamation didn’t immediately apply in certain areas, including secessionist states like Texas, which had left the Union and joined the Confederacy during the Civil War.

It took another two years for the news to be enacted in Texas. The Civil War ended in April 1865 and two months later, on June 19, 1865, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger of the Union Army issued General Order No. 3 in Galveston, Texas, with Granger saying, “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”

Slavery was formally abolished after Congress ratified the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution nearly six months later, on Dec. 6, 1865. Freed slaves marked June 19 the following year, kicking off the first celebration of Juneteenth.

Juneteenth is also known as Black Independence Day, Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, Juneteenth Independence Day or Juneteenth National Freedom Day.

The history of Juneteenth

Texas was the first state to establish Juneteenth as a state holiday. The late Rep. Al Edwards of Houston, a Democratic congressman, wrote and sponsored a bill calling for "Emancipation Day in Texas" to be recognized as a "legal holiday." He filed Bill 1016 in February 1979 and it passed in the Texas House of Representatives and Texas Senate the following May. Texas Republican Gov. William Clements signed the bill in June 1979 and the bill officially went into effect on Jan. 1, 1980.

EDWARDS (Thomas Terry / AP)

As of now, 47 states along with the District of Columbia that recognizes Juneteenth as "a holiday or observance."

Congressional representatives have introduced multiple bills to make Juneteenth a federal holiday, unsuccessfully thus far. Groups and activists, like the National Juneteenth Observation Foundation and Opal Lee of Texas, continue to petition the federal government to make Juneteenth a national holiday.

Juneteenth celebrations

Zebiyan Fields, 11, at center, drums alongside more than 20 kids at the front of the Juneteenth parade in Flint, Michigan on June 19, 2018. (Jake May / AP)

Juneteenth has grown from a national holiday into a global one with a variety of celebrations worldwide, including cookouts, festivals, marches, pageants, parades, picnics, rodeos, readings and vigils. Events commemorate African American culture, achievements and food, while honoring a monumental change in American history.

JUNETEENTH CELEBRATION (Joe Amon / Getty Images)

Many universities and private companies have joined state governments in recognizing Juneteenth as an official holiday. Most recently, the NFL declared Juneteenth a league holiday, following companies like Nike and Twitter.