What Is Juneteenth? And How Did It Become a Federal Holiday?

For visitors from outside of the United States, today is a new national holiday, Jueteenth.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Juneteenth is an annual holiday observing the end of slavery in the U.S. It marks the day (June 19, 1865) when news of emancipation reached people in the deepest parts of the former Confederacy in Galveston, Texas.

In 2021, it became the first new federal holiday created by Congress in nearly four decades. The bipartisan legislation was signed into law by President Biden on June 17, giving Juneteenth the same status as Memorial Day, Veterans Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day and other federal holidays.

Celebrated for decades through family gatherings and events such as parades and public readings of the Emancipation Proclamation, the holiday received more national attention in recent years—in particular after the global protests sparked in 2020 by the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and Rayshard Brooks, as well as a national conversation to rethink policing in America. Amid calls for racial equity, more companies, including Nike, Twitter and Spotify Technology, moved to observe the holiday.

. . . .

The holiday, also known as Emancipation Day, Black Independence Day or Jubilee Day, recognizes the date when news of emancipation finally reached Galveston, on June 19, 1865.

Nearly two months after the end of the Civil War, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger, along with more than 1,800 federal troops, arrived to take control of the state, confirming the freedom of the last remaining slaves in the deepest parts of the South.

Although the Emancipation Proclamation—an executive order declaring that “all persons held as slaves” would be free—was signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, and Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender in Appomattox, Va., marked the end of the Civil War in April 1865, news spread slowly and often met resistance from plantation owners.

The 13th Amendment, enshrining a ban on slavery into the Constitution, was ratified in December 1865. In pockets of the country, however, enslavement of African-Americans continued for several years.

. . . .

Juneteenth is the first federal holiday to be created by Congress since 1983, when lawmakers designated the third Monday in January as Martin Luther King Jr. Day, in honor of the slain civil-rights leader.

Texas was the first state, in 1980, to declare Juneteenth a holiday. All 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia, now acknowledge or observe Juneteenth, according to the Congressional Research Service.

. . . .

The new federal holiday took effect immediately. Because the first observance fell on Saturday, most federal employees were given off Friday, June 18, 2021.

Many states scrambled that year to give some of their public employees the day off, and employers from Goldman Sachs and Bank of America to Stanley Black & Decker were among the organizations around the U.S. that quickly rolled out new holiday policies for workers, with some allowing people to take Friday off with mere hours of notice. Some universities, like Ohio State, canceled classes.

. . . .

Stock markets, which close for many federal holidays, but not all, remained open on the first official federally recognized Juneteenth, but closed in 2022. The New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq will be closed on Monday in recognition of Juneteenth. Markets will reopen Tuesday.

Most banks will be closed, since the Federal Reserve observes Juneteenth as a holiday. The U.S. Postal Service will also close in observance of the holiday. Most stores, including grocery stores, gyms and other consumer-facing retailers, will be open. 

. . . .

Hundreds of official events take place across the U.S. and the world in celebration of Juneteenth. When the announcement of freedom finally reached Galveston in 1865, newly liberated African-Americans celebrated with prayer, dance and community feasts. The earliest observances of the holiday presented an occasion to bring together family members and recognize Black freedom by reading passages from the Emancipation Proclamation and holding religious services.

After the Covid-19 pandemic limited festivities in 2020, major Juneteenth celebrations, parades and festivals were set for 2021.

Many cities and municipalities will hold Juneteenth events again this year. The Atlanta Parade & Music Festival runs from Friday to Sunday at the city’s Centennial Olympic Park. In Washington, D.C., the National Museum of African American History and Culture has planned presentations, stories and exhibitions highlighting issues and the cause for celebrations around the holiday.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

14 thoughts on “What Is Juneteenth? And How Did It Become a Federal Holiday?”

    • And it totally ignored that many slave holders kept their victims isolated and unaware they’d been (technically) freed. For months and even years.

      Lots of myths on the matter of 19th century slavery.
      Even more on its present day versions.

  1. I think the celebration took place when a Union General, Gordon Granger, issued an order proclaiming that all Texas slaves were free on June 19, 1865.

    At this point in time, my understanding is that the morale of the Confederate Army in Texas was in a state of collapse with large numbers of troops deserting daily, either to make their way home or to head West and North into mostly unsettled land. With Confederate forces collapsing or surrendering elsewhere, Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas were the only places where the Confederate Army had not formally surrendered.

    To the former slaves, General Granger’s proclamation and the collapsing/disappearing Confederate military meant they could leave their “owners” with no real likelihood of anyone stopping them.

    • Correct. It marked the announcement of the ability to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation.

      It’s akin to declaring independence in 1776 but taking another seven years to realize it.

  2. Oh, sure — I don’t have a problem with that marking the celebration.

    What I have a problem with is the hypocritical obscuring of the lingering months of slavery in northern states by those who would (today) far rather stand with the virtuous Union and crap all over those evil Confederates. Let them stain their lily-white pretensions a little bit.

    Slavery was an evil. So was the tyrannical death of many, many thousands, when peaceful and less destructive alternative resolutions of the issue were shunted aside.

    • Thing was, the issue could have been resolved peacefully. Unfortunately, a bunch of idiots decided to break up the country because they might not be able to expand it, and in the process of reunification they lost slavery.

      People forget that ending slavery was a means by which to preserve the Union, rather than preserving the Union being the means by which to end slavery.

    • Having been a professional in the destructive means of dispute resolution, I must disagree.

      Any “peaceful and less destructive alternative resolutions” require good faith, and usually some compromise, on both sides. If the so-called Missouri Compromise — which would have been more-accurately termed the Missouri Landgrab, and whose title foreshadows destroying villages to save them — did not demonstrate that to at least some extent both sides† could no longer effectively compromise or actually act in good faith, the rhetoric in electoral politics from 1854 onward surely does. Put another way, it takes only one side’s intransigence to lead to violence (evidence: nearly the entirety of human history). So I cannot agree with the subtextual blame-shifting to the Union here, particularly since the “violence” had begun decades previously with armed invasions of Union states by vigilante-militias seeking to “repatriate property.” Any hypothetical appeal to a “peaceful and less destructive alternative” ignores that not later than 1793‡ it was no longer peaceful.

      † Vastly moreso as to the plantation economies — and there are many darned good reasons within the dismal science that that’s a pejorative term — but the protoindustrial and nonplantation-agrarian economies are not entirely blameless. “Lost Cause” my surgically-removed great toenail: It’s difficult to untangle at two centuries’ distance relying upon only the writings of the upper and upper-middle classes, but that “not entirely blameless” is largely petulance at the obliviousness of the plantation economies.

      ‡ The first Fugitive Slave Act. The second one (1850) was certainly worse, but far from the first. It was only a matter of weeks after passage in 1793 until Virginia and North Carolina-based militia elements seized Blacks in western Pennsylvania, both freedmen and never-enslaved, as “property.”

      • Certainly there was provocation from the South by land-grab and opportunistic people. And the opening of the last of the black soil lands in Mississippi created a cotton-rush for plantation owners in the final generation. Yes, there were slave catchers. I’m not claiming innocence on either side. There were plenty of scoundrels to go around.

        The extension of slavery to support the South as new land opened plays a part in that, too, and not a good one. Slavery needed a path to extinction — agreed. The uneven economic balance between the regions and the new territories to the West were a path in that direction. Everyone knew this was a practice that would come to an end, and probably within the current generation. We had shiny new methods of debating and constitutional procedures for moving beyond this.

        But, no, that didn’t happen. Instead, we had a power grab by federal authority (sound familiar?)

        It’s not the South that brought federal-supported war to the ordinary citizenry of the North (yes — Carolina hotheads, but that’s just a causus belli, not the full weight). It wasn’t the South that invaded the North and destroyed the homes of the combatants, making war on civilians. People like Robert E Lee did not create swathes of destruction in the North. They fought soldiers on battlefields, rather than burning villages and cities.

        The Southern armies fought the Northern ones almost exclusively in Southern Territory. The enormously widespread destruction and looting of the South by the Northern armies is still completely visible and very much a living memory. Ruins still stand, ruined, and I’ve seen them. History is alive in the South. Almost all the damage was in the South, and the atrocities were where the damage was. As a great many diaries will attest, many of the very well-educated elite in the South knew perfectly well that they couldn’t win against the resources of the North, but once it started they were defending their own families on their own ground, and the best they could hope for was a negotiated peace and a way forward. They distrusted the “good faith” of the North, and Reconstruction amply demonstrated that they were right to do so.

        So, no, the South with its long memory is not quick to forget what it was like to be tyrannized within the Republic. There’s a reason people are more hard core about being left alone in the South today than in the North, and yet more likely to join the military to defend the entire country, despite the constant abuse still heaped upon their heads.

        • If Ukraine “wins” against the muscovite armies, what next?
          Do they shake hands and go back to their corners?

          War is no pretty business and not easily forgotten.
          It never has been, wouldn’t expect it to ever be because history starts with one’s grievances, not the other guy’s. Those are coveniently forgotten.


          War leaves no clean hands.
          In that, it is best to try everything short of all out war.

          I find more pressing the consideration of the next wars rather than the dead and buried past.

          If we are to endure, the time to shed blood is nigh. Delaying it is worth trying rather than rushing to advance the innevitable. And thus Blinken’s hopeless trek to China today was worth trying anyway. But it is futile.

          Best to prepare for the worst. China’s peak, like russia’s is past. Both rose as they did out of american naivete and forbearance. The former remains but the latter is exhausted.

        • Okay, what power grab by federal authority?

          The timeline is as follows:
          1. Secession
          2. Inauguration of Lincoln
          3. Attempts to reconcile peacefully, all extended from Washington (Corwin Amendment, etc.)
          4. Attempted resupply of Fort Sumter
          5. Confederate forces fire on Fort Sumter
          6. Lincoln calls for 75,000 volunteers to put down the rebellion.

          The only thing that could be interpreted as a “power grab” happens after the fight starts, not before.

  3. I’ll just add a point I’ve made before in other contexts.

    The Civil War was by far the most destructive in US history. More Americans, Union and Confederate – 620,000 – 2% of the population of the nation at the time – died in the Civil War than in all the other wars in US history combined, the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Spanish-American War, World War I and II, Korea and most of the way through Vietnam.

    Some reputable historians have criticized the 620,000 deaths estimate as being too low. These scholars estimate that 750,000 died in the Civil War. Part of the disagreements have arisen because of the extremely poor records that were kept of both the soldiers who fought and battlefield deaths on both sides, although the records of the Confederate Army are almost certainly less complete due to the destruction the war caused to the agencies and places where Confederate Army details were kept.

    The capture and destruction of enemy cities a central feature of Civil War military campaigns. They did so for two reasons.

    First, most mid-19th-century cities had factories, foundries, and warehouses within their borders, churning out and storing war materiel; military officials believed that if they interrupted or incapacitated the enemy’s ability to arm or clothe themselves, the war would end.

    Second, it was believed that the widespread destruction of property—especially in major or capital cities—would also damage civilians’ morale, undermining their political convictions and decreasing their support for the war effort.

    See Urban Destruction during the Civil War by Megan Kate Nelson

    • One must also remember that the property destruction of the Second War of American Secession was awful. It was extreme by our standards. It was remarkably limited by the standards of Europe in the 19th century, let alone before then. Take a look at the Crimean War, for example… but not if you have eaten recently.

      None of which is an excuse, merely an explanation and context. But then, having had professional duties related to <sarcasm> such unspoiled vistas as Belfast and Beirut </sarcasm>, I have little or no sympathy for those justifying today’s jerkishness† because a century and a half ago there were somewhat excessive consequences for misbehavior. That’s precisely how we end up with Belfast and Beirut. And Birmingham.

      † I’d ordinarily say much worse. I was trained by the very best: Senior NCOs taking the new lieutenant under their wings. But this is a family-friendly forum.

  4. Juneteenth is apparently a Federal Holiday here in Santa Fe, so the Post Office is closed.

    I’ve watched the tracking on Amazon of a DVD that is here in town. They used UPS SurePost, and the poor guy can’t deliver it. And the message says that about five times, each update separated by a minute, as if he is waving his scanner at the barcode as he waits, then finally gives up.

    He probably has a pallet rather than one package, and the PO being closed today, has him totally confused.

    I’ll see what the tracking says tomorrow.

    • Delivered today.


      The DVD was here, in Santa Fe since Friday, outside the PO many times, unable to be accepted, and it took this long to be “Delivered”.

      See what happens when you add one more pointless Holiday.

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