Juneteenth: What is it and why do we celebrate it?

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Juneteenth National Independence Day, June 19, commemorates the day that U.S. General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865 — and shared the news that the Emancipation Proclamation had been passed two years earlier. The Civil War had ended two months before June 1865.

Last year, Juneteenth became the nation’s 12th federal holiday through a 415-14 vote in the House of Representatives.

President Biden signed the bill into law on June 17, 2021.

As of recently, the day is colloquially known as Juneteenth — a contracted word that combines the month of June with the number 19. The federal acknowledgment happened two days before Juneteenth’s 156th anniversary.

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Observers of Juneteenth pay tribute to the day with parades, festivals, speaking engagements, social justice gatherings and charity work.

This year, for the first time, U.S. stock markets will be closed on Monday, June 20, in observance of Juneteenth. Federal workers get a paid day off for Juneteenth.

When General Granger shared the news in Texas about the Emancipation Proclamation, slaves in the remaining rebel state were unaware that President Abraham Lincoln had issued the 1863 proclamation that freed slaves in Confederate states.

The slave trade remained in effect after Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s surrender to the Union’s Ulysses S. Grant in Virginia on April 9, 1865, and Lincoln’s death on April 15, 1865, according to historians.

Approximately 250,000 slaves were freed in Texas following the army’s announcement.

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It’s not known why news of emancipation didn’t reach all the 34 states that made up the warring nation. Theories about what could have led to the delayed announcement have circulated for more than a century.

The Library of Congress names three theories that have been discussed among historians and Juneteenth observers.

These include the chance that the messenger carrying the Emancipation Proclamation announcement to Texas might have been killed mid-journey; that slave owners might have deliberately withheld the news; or that federal troops might have held off on enforcing the proclamation until slave owners were in a position to harvest their final cotton crops through slave labor.

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Despite the uncertainty about the delay, freed slaves went on to commemorate the day in Texas and throughout the U.S.

Early observances acknowledged June 19 as Emancipation Day, Jubilee Day, Freedom Day and Black Independence Day.

Observers of the day state that the annual acknowledgment of this point in history serves as a reminder that slavery wasn’t actually abolished with the Emancipation Proclamation — which was passed on Jan. 1, 1863.

Slavery was formally abolished through the nation’s 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which was ratified on Dec. 6, 1865.

That took place six months after Juneteenth.

Though General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant in Virginia on April 8, 1865, marking the beginning of the end of the four-year-long Civil War, the Civil War was proclaimed as officially over on April 2, 1866, by President Andrew Johnson.