What Is Juneteenth? The History of America's Holiday Marking the End of Slavery in Texas and Events to Watch
On June 19, 1865, Black people in Texas who were still enslaved were told they were actually free. A look at the history of Juneteenth and how the newest federal holiday will be celebrated on Monday.
Juneteenth is a commemoration long marked by the Black community. But it was not a federal holiday until 2021, when President Joe Biden declared June 19 would forever more be dedicated to honoring the freedom of enslaved Black people in the U.S.
On June 19, 1865, Union Major General Gordon Granger rode onto the Texas island of Galveston to emancipate the state's enslaved Black people and to formally declare the end of the Civil War. Granger's announcement to the last state still enslaving Black people came more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln announced the Emancipation Proclamation would take effect in 1863.
Juneteenth, a word combining June and 19, had been annually celebrated by Black people for decades. After Biden's declaration, it's now a day in which banks, the New York Stock Exchange and the U.S. Postal Service close their operations in commemoration.
About half of U.S. states have declared it a state holiday as well.
This week, on the South Lawn of the White House, Biden hosted a vibrant concert honoring Black freedom. “To me, making Juneteenth a federal holiday wasn’t just a symbolic gesture. It was a statement of fact for this country to acknowledge the origin of the original sin of slavery," he told the assembled crowd.
Tuesday's festivities featured emotional performances by Tony winners Audra McDonald and Jennifer Hudson, as well as jubilant appearances by Tennessee State University's marching band and the Step Afrika! dance troupe.
Here is a guide to some celebrations across the country over the weekend and on Monday, June 19.
Fort Worth, Texas
Black activist Opal Lee began the campaign to have Juneteenth recognized as a federal holiday in her hometown. As a little girl, she had watched in horror as some 500 white supremacists burned her family home to the ground. A life of activism and teaching followed.
In 2016, at age 89, Lee began walking 2.5 miles a day, in remembrance of the years that lapsed between the Emancipation Proclamation and the freeing of enslaved Black people in Texas.
On Monday, celebrants can pay a fee to participate in Opal's Walk for Freedom, which follows her historic footsteps. The route also features floats and vehicles decorated in freedom finery.
In the nation's capital, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture will feature several weekend activities including chef presentations on how to cook soul food favorites.
On Sunday, visitors to the Brookland Arts Walk can eat and shop at local Black businesses.
In the city that Martin Luther King Jr. and Rep. John Lewis called home, the weekend promises many events to celebrate, eat and be merry.
The Juneteenth Atlanta Parade will march down Marietta Street, passing Centennial Olympic Park on Saturday, with floats and marching bands. The event is broadcast live by the local cable provider.
The Atlanta History Center will offer genealogy presentations on Saturday and celebrated R&B singer Keith Washington is scheduled to perform at the NAACP Atlanta chapter's free concert that evening.
What to Eat While Celebrating
Many celebrations will feature food staples of the Black community.
Owing to roots in the Black American diaspora, Juneteenth food is typically mobile, has to travel well, and has to last, Cook's Nook CEO Joi Chevalier previously told Inside Edition Digital. “Prepared chicken, or you get something like macaroni and cheese because it doesn't go bad very quickly. It's cooked, and everything's cooked in it. So you can take that in different forms with you,” she said.
“Things like pound cake, especially down here, easy to travel, easy to wrap, or you would get sandwiches. There was very traditional sandwiches, cheese, pickles, things that can, again, move and survive being in motion," Chevalier said. And if you’re looking for vegetables on Juneteenth, it's most likely going to be collard greens. “They actually travel really well, especially if they're vinegared, which you do use in a lot of collard green dishes in order to remove a little bit of the bitterness,” she said.
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