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What to know about Juneteenth and why people are talking about it now

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(CNN) — Juneteenth could not be coming at a more fitting time.

The June 19 holiday commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. But 155 years after the news of their emancipation finally reached slaves in Galveston, Texas, the nation is still struggling with the issues of systemic racism and injustice.

That struggle surfaced once again in the national debate and massive Black Lives Matter protests that were sparked by the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers on May 25.

Forty-seven states and the District of Columbia mark June 19 as a state holiday or observance. Communities across the country celebrate it with food and festivities. But — despite a push by activists over the years — Juneteenth still isn’t a federal holiday. And, throughout its history, it has often been overlooked by non-black Americans.

Here’s what to know about Juneteenth.

What Juneteenth is

Juneteenth — a blending of the words June and nineteenth — is the oldest regular US celebration of the end of slavery.

It commemorates June 19, 1865: the day that Union Army Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas, and told slaves of their emancipation.

“In accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free,” Granger read to a crowd.

That day came more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. Even after Lincoln declared all enslaved people free on paper, that hadn’t necessarily been the case in practice.

African Americans and others mark Juneteenth — also called Emancipation Day — much like the Fourth of July, with parties, picnics and gatherings with family and friends.

Juneteenth has been celebrated informally since 1865, but Texas became the first state to make it a state holiday in 1980.

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