Juneteenth, celebrated on June nineteenth, is coming up and it is time for sorrowful reflection but mainly celebration. The Fourth of July may be recognized as America’s Independence Day, but it was not so for all Americans. Juneteenth recognizes that no one is free until everyone is free. It celebrates Black Americans and the end of generations of enslavement and the fight for freedom that went on long after 1776. It acknowledges the pain and bloodshed of that fight that is still not over to this day. With its many meanings, Juneteenth is a time for Black Americans (and all else) to do what they do best: come together, eat, sing, dance and celebrate. Here are some Juneteenth facts to celebrate or to learn more about the holiday for those who know much about it or its history.

19 Juneteenth Facts

Historical Significance: Juneteenth commemorates the announcement of the abolition of slavery in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865, officially marking the end of slavery in the United States. This was over two years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had legally freed all enslaved people in the Confederate states.

Other Names for this Holiday: Juneteenth is also known as Freedom Day, Emancipation Day, Jubilee Day, Black Independence Day, Juneteenth Independence Day and others. 

General Order No. 3: The holiday marks the day Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, and announced General Order No. 3, which informed enslaved African Americans of their freedom and that the Civil War had ended.

Delayed Emancipation: Despite the Emancipation Proclamation being issued on January 1, 1863, enforcement was slow and inconsistent in some Confederate states, particularly in remote areas like Texas. This delay was due to the minimal presence of Union troops in these areas.

First Celebrations: The first official celebrations of Juneteenth began in Texas in 1866. Formerly enslaved people and their newly reconnected descendants celebrated with prayer meetings, singing and the wearing of new clothes to symbolize their newfound freedom.

State Recognition: Texas was the first state to make Juneteenth an official state holiday in 1980 after a resurgence of the celebration of the holiday and push from Black activists post-Civil Rights Movement. Since then, it has been recognized in various forms in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

National Holiday: On June 17, 2021, President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law, making Juneteenth a federal holiday. This was the first federal holiday signed into law since President Ronald Reagan signed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day into law in 1983.

Modern Awareness and Legislative Action:  In recent years, Juneteenth has gained significant attention, especially in the context of the Black Lives Matter movement and ongoing discussions about racial justice and equality in the United States. This has led to increased awareness and participation in Juneteenth celebrations. However, the push for making Juneteenth a national holiday had been ongoing for decades prior. It finally culminated in 2021 when President Joe Biden signed the legislation into law, largely due to the efforts of activists, historians and political leaders who advocated for its recognition. Opal Lee, also known as the “grandmother of Juneteenth,” is a key activist behind Juneteenth becoming an official holiday and was present for the signing of the bill into law. 

Traditions and Celebrations: Juneteenth celebrations typically include public readings of the Emancipation Proclamation, singing traditional songs such as what is considered the Black national anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” readings and performances of the work of African Americans, parades, family gatherings and community festivals with food, music and dancing.

Continued Advocacy: Juneteenth also serves as a time for reflection on the ongoing struggle for racial equality and justice in the United States, as well as a reminder of the resilience and contributions of African Americans to the nation’s history and culture.

Juneteenth Flag: The Juneteenth flag, designed by activist Ben Haith in 1997, features a bursting star in the middle, symbolizing a new freedom and a new people. The star represents Texas, the Lone Star State, as well as the freedom of African Americans in all 50 states. The flag’s red, white and blue colors echo the American flag, highlighting the integration of African American history into American history as well as their long and hard-fought journey to freedom.

Cultural Contributions: Juneteenth celebrations often highlight African American culture through food, music, dance and literature. Traditional foods like barbecue, red velvet cake, watermelon and strawberry soda are commonly enjoyed, as well as other red foods that symbolize the blood shed by Black Americans during centuries of enslavement.

Legal Significance: Juneteenth is one of the oldest known celebrations commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. Its recognition as a federal holiday in 2021 marked a significant milestone in the acknowledgment of African American history.

Community Events: Many cities and towns host parades, picnics, concerts and historical reenactments. These events serve not only as celebrations but also as educational experiences that highlight the rich cultural heritage of African Americans. Other communal Juneteenth celebrations include community service projects, such as neighborhood clean-ups, food drives and volunteer activities to name a few.

Political Activism: The day is also used to address current issues affecting African American communities, such as systemic racism, police brutality and economic disparities. Activists and community leaders often hold rallies and discussions to promote social justice.

Family Reunions: Juneteenth has become a popular time for African American families to gather for reunions, reflecting on their heritage and celebrating their ancestors’ journey from slavery to freedom.

Global Perspective: Although Juneteenth is a uniquely American holiday, it resonates with people around the world who recognize the ongoing struggle for freedom and human rights. International events and celebrations highlight the global impact of the African diaspora.

Music and Performance: Juneteenth events frequently feature performances of spirituals, blues, jazz and gospel music, all of which have deep roots in African American history. These performances celebrate cultural heritage and serve as a tribute to the contributions of Black Americans to the arts.

Religious Significance: For many, Juneteenth also has religious significance, with church services and prayer meetings being an integral part of the celebrations like how the holiday was first celebrated. These services often include readings of the Emancipation Proclamation and sermons that reflect on themes of liberation and justice also similarly to the earliest celebrations.