In 2021, Juneteenth became a federal holiday. The path from local observance in Texas to nationwide day of celebration has been long, and—like the freedom it commemorates—speaks of America's journey from a nation that aspired to equality to a nation that works each day to achieve it.
The Juneteenth story began in Galveston, Texas, in the years after the Civil War. On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger issued General Order No. 3, which emancipated those who were enslaved, marking the end of the institution that dated back to the first colonies of what would become the United States.
June 19 became "Juneteenth" and a day of celebration; the first recorded observance occurred the very next year in 1866. Many of these early celebrations centered around church communities, as segregation laws prevented African Americans from using many public spaces. Despite this, Juneteenth celebrations expanded across the south. Traditions began to form, with many communities gathering for meals, fairs, baseball games, and more.
As the Civil Rights Movement marched to prominence, the old exclusionary practices were denounced and removed from the law. Consequently, Juneteenth celebrations were more broadly adopted in the 1970s.
As the African American community expanded across the country, Juneteenth found its way into the north and further west. By 1979, Juneteenth celebrations occurred in every U.S. state and the District of Columbia. Moreover, Juneteenth is not exclusive to the U.S.; parts of Mexico also observe the day.
Since becoming a federal holiday, Juneteenth appears set to become an even bigger American institution. The day is celebrated Jubilee-style (a biblical reference to the celebration held after the freeing of the enslaved) with cookouts, fairs, cultural gatherings, public readings, and more.
This celebration of freedom continues to spread to the rest of the country and beyond. It offers the opportunity to affirm the universal right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for every human being and to reflect upon how far we have come, how far we have yet to go, and how we can continue advancing the cause of freedom and justice across our communities—even worldwide.
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