DemDaily: What is Juneteenth?

June 16, 2021


This evening the US House of Representatives voted 415 to 14 to pass H.R. 1320, establishing June 19th as Juneteenth National Independence Day, which commemorates the end of slavery in the United States.

The bipartisan bill, sponsored by Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), passed unanimously in the US Senate yesterday.

It now goes to President Biden's desk for signature, where "America's second Independence Day" is expected to become our 11th federal holiday.

The legislation follows a powerful and historic year of civil unrest, one that demanded justice in the wake of a nationwide outcry over police brutality and systematic racism, compounded by a pandemic that has disproportionately affected people and communities of color.

"We have a long road towards racial justice in the United States and we cannot get there without acknowledging our nation's original sin of slavery. It is long past time to make Juneteenth a federal holiday." -- Senator Edward Markey

"Juneteenth" is a combination of "June" and "nineteenth," the day, in 1865, when Union soldiers announced in Galveston, Texas that all previously enslaved people were free, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect.

Texas Order June 19, 1965 declaring "all slaves are free" (National Archives)

The Emancipation Proclamation, signed by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, three years into the bloody American Civil War (1861-1865), declared "that all persons held as slaves within any rebellions against the U.S. shall be then, thenceforward and forever free."

The institution of slavery, however, still existed in Union border states that did not declare secession from the Union and did not join the Confederacy.

To end the practice of slavery, it took Union soldiers riding through the South to enforce an order many slaves did not know existed. Texas was the most remote of the slave states, and the last holdout, finally freeing the quarter-million slaves residing in the state.

Slavery in the United States, however, did not officially end until the completion of the Civil War and the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States on December 6, 1865, which abolished slavery entirely in all of the U.S. states and territories.

America's Second Independence Day
Juneteenth has since been celebrated as a de facto second Independence Day for many African Americans, commemorating the end of slavery and the beginning of a centuries-long struggle to live up to our country's founding promise of justice and equality for all.

The Root's "What is Juneteenth?" (Click/Watch)

Commemorations date back to 1866, with church-centered community gatherings in Texas, which eventually spread to more commercialized events across the South in the 1920s and 1930s. Although recognition of the day waned in the wake of the Depression, Juneteenth celebrations experienced a resurgence following the civil rights struggles of the 1960's, focusing on African American freedom and arts.

On June 1, 1980, Texas became the first to officially recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday, and by the 21st century, Juneteenth was celebrated in most major cities across the United States. It is currently legally recognized as an annual state or ceremonial holiday in all states, with the exception of South Dakota.

With President Biden's signature, the federal government will join (the) states in recognizing as a holiday Juneteenth, the day that has been celebrated by African Americans for 156 years and has been called rightly as 'America's second Independence Day.'" - Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee

Today, in voting to make Juneteenth a federal holiday, our Congress and our country are at last paying formal tribute to the contribution of Black people to the struggle for justice and equality in the United States, and to the importance of our shared history and goal of freedom from racism for all Americans.

Learn More:
Teach Your Children: Juneteenth For Mazio


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Kimberly Scott

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Sources: US Congress,, CNN, New York Times, The Hill

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