Celebrating Juneteenth

Publish Date June 4, 2024 1 Minute Read

What is Juneteenth?

Celebrated every year on June 19, Juneteenth commemorates the day that slavery was ended in the United States, when the last slaves in Texas were finally emancipated. In 2021, Juneteenth was officially recognized as a federal holiday, which led to many more people learning about and celebrating this long-standing Black American holiday.

History of Juneteenth

Though slavery was officially ended on the first day of 1863, when Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, the Civil War persisted until mid-1865 – and so did slavery. Until then, slaves living in areas still controlled by Confederate troops were effectively still enslaved, and many weren’t even aware of the Emancipation Proclamation and all that it entailed. As Union troops defeated the Confederate Army, they enforced the Emancipation Proclamation and freed slaves across the South.

During the Civil War, Texas was an extremely remote Confederate state that was largely insulated from the Union. Because of this, many slaveholders moved to Texas to escape the fighting and maintain power over their slaves. It wasn’t until June 19, 1865, when Union Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, that the thousands of Black slaves living there were freed. From there, freedom spread to over 250,000 slaves living across Texas. Because June 19 was the day that began the emancipation of the last remaining slaves in the United States, we celebrate it as the day that slavery was finally ended in our country.

Why is it Called Juneteenth?

The name of the holiday is a portmanteau of the date: the words “June” and “nineteenth.

What is the Juneteenth Flag?

Designed in 1997 by Ben Haith, the Juneteenth flag was created to represent freedom and the end of slavery. The top half of the flag is blue, the bottom half is red and the 2 sections are separated by an arc that symbolizes a new horizon. In the center of the flag sits a white, 5-pointed star that represents the start of a new life for the Black Texans who were emancipated on Juneteenth. Around that 5-pointed star is a nova that represents a new beginning for all freed slaves.

Is Juneteenth a Federal Holiday?

Texas was the first state to officially recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday in 1980, and several states followed suit over the next decades. By the late 2010s, almost every state had declared Juneteenth a state holiday or recognized Juneteenth in some way. Awareness of Juneteenth has continued to spread, and in 2021 Congress passed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act to establish Juneteenth as a federal holiday. The bill was signed into law by President Biden shortly afterwards, making Juneteenth the 11th national holiday.

How Is Juneteenth Celebrated?

At first, Juneteenth was mostly celebrated in Galveston where the liberation of Texas slaves began on that day in 1865. In the years following the very first Juneteenth, many former slaves made pilgrimages back to Galveston to mark the anniversary of their emancipation. Early on, these gatherings were used to provide voting instructions to Black Americans who were ready to exercise their democratic rights. But as the years went on, the date evolved into a more celebration-focused holiday that entailed food, gathering with friends and family, activities like baseball and picnicking, and even preaching. Over time, as Black Texans migrated to other areas across the United States, the celebrations spread until the holiday became well-known throughout the country.

While Juneteenth is especially important to Black Americans, people of all backgrounds can take time to reflect on our country’s history and appreciate the day that all people in the United States became free citizens. For Black Americans especially, it’s a day to connect with family and friends, spend time with community and enjoy the day with cookouts, music and even fireworks.

If you’re looking for more ways to honor Juneteenth, consider supporting the Black community by shopping items from Black-owned-and-founded businesses. You can also take time to educate yourself, your friends and your family members about our nation’s history of slavery and find ways to promote equality in your day-to-day life. For more ideas and reflection on Juneteenth, read this letter from Ashleigh Marable, a Kroger Learning and Development project manager who writes about her great-great-grandfather’s experience as a freed slave, and how we can all keep working toward diversity and inclusion.

Happy Juneteenth!