Newest federal holiday, Juneteenth, has long history

  • Published
  • By Aimee Malone
  • Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center
Juneteenth is the newest federal holiday, but the celebration began shortly after the Civil War.
Juneteenth, which is short for “June 19,” commemorates the day in 1865 that federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, and informed residents that all enslaved people were now free. It’s considered the official end of slavery, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed and two months after the end of the Civil War.
According to the History website, freedmen in Texas organized a Jubilee Day on June 19, 1866, in the first version of what would become Juneteenth. Commemorations throughout the years have featured music, barbecues, prayer services and more. As people moved from Texas, the Juneteenth tradition began to spread throughout the country.
In 1979, Texas was the first state to make Juneteenth an official holiday, but the day remained little known throughout much of the United States. In 2021, Juneteenth became a federal holiday.
“In its celebration of freedom, Juneteenth is a day that should be recognized by all Americans,” states the 2021 presidential proclamation signed by President Joe Biden.
“A day in which we remember the moral stain and terrible toll of slavery on our country -- what I’ve long called America’s original sin. A long legacy of systemic racism, inequality, and inhumanity,” Biden said. “But it is a day that also reminds us of our incredible capacity to heal, hope, and emerge from our darkest moments with purpose and resolve.”
According to the Juneteenth website, established in 1996 to help educate people about and promote the holiday, “Juneteenth serves symbolically, and in reality, as a reference point from which to measure and appreciate the progress and contributions made by African Americans to this society.
“Juneteenth is a day on which honor and respect is paid for the sufferings of slavery. It is a day on which we acknowledge the evils of slavery and its aftermath. On Juneteenth, we talk about our history and realize because of it, there will forever be a bond between us.”