A day of particular significance to Black Americans officially became the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was adopted in 1983.
“Juneteenth,” officially known as Juneteenth National Independence Day commemorates the emancipation of African-American slaves.
President Joe Biden signed the legislation making Juneteenth a national federal holiday on June 17 this year.
The day has been celebrated annually in various parts of the U.S. since the first “Juneteenth,” on June 19, 1865, at Galveston, Tex.
It was on that date that General Order No. 3 was issued by Union Army General Gordon Granger, proclaiming freedom for slaves in Texas, the last state of the Confederacy with institutional slavery.
President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of Jan. 1, 1863, officially outlawed slavery in Texas, as well as all states of the original Confederacy, but enforcement generally relied on advancement of Union troops.
As Texas was the most remote state of the former Confederacy, a low presence of Union troops following the end of the war, enforcement had been slow and inconsistent prior to Granger’s announcement.
Even then, slavery remained legal for a short time after the fall of the Confederacy in two Union border states—Delaware and Kentucky–but it all came to an end with the ratification of the 13th amendment which constitutionally ended slavery nationwide Dec. 6, 1865, and with the final actual release of slaves by the Indian Territories that had sided with the Confederacy, primarily the Choctaws, in 1866.
The early celebrations involved mostly church-centered community gatherings in Texas. It spread across the South, becoming more commercialized in the 1920s and 30s, most often centering around food.
Blacks migrating to better jobs in the North carried the celebration to other parts of the country.
The holiday took a backseat to the Civil Rights struggles of the 1960s, but began to grow in popularity in the 1970k, focusing on African American freedom and the arts.
Juneteenth was formally recognized by proclamation in Texas in 1938 and by legislation passed in 1979. Since then, 49 states and the District of Columbia have acknowledged the holiday in various ways.