What is Juneteenth? A brief explainer of America's 'second independence day'

T.J. with the Bandan Koro African Dance Ensemble leads children dancing during a Juneteenth celebration at Fair Park in Dallas, Monday, June 19, 2017. Juneteenth celebrates the end of slavery in Texas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Juneteenth, also called Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, is a recognized American holiday that is not otherwise widely recognized. Despite being celebrated annually on June 19 across the country with events and parades, many Americans are still unaware that the day commemorates the end of slavery in the United States.

President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation during the Civil War on January 1, 1863, giving more than 3 million slaves who lived in Confederate states their freedom. However, it would take more than two years before the edict to be fully realized by slaves still living in Texas. Finally, on June 19, 1865, a month after the formal end to the Civil War, General Gordon Granger issued General Order No. 3 in Galveston, Texas which stated, "The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”

Explanations for why the news took two years to reach Texas vary. According to Juneteenth.com, one version of the story states that a messenger delivering the news to Texas was murdered. Another says that slave owners deliberately withheld the information to maintain the labor force. A third version holds that federal troops waited to deliver the news so as to allow for one final cotton harvest. All, none, or some v=combination of these stories could be true.

The name of the holiday is an amalgamation of the words "June" and "Nineteenth," in reference to the date on which the holiday is celebrated.

Exactly a year after the announcement was made, Juneteenth celebrations took place again on June 19 in Texas, including prayer meetings, new clothing styles to signify freedom, feasts, and dance. As time went on, Afircan Americans in other states also began to celebrate the holiday, eventually cementing it as an annual tradition.

These celebrations have carried well into the 21st century. In 1980, Texas made Juneteenth a state holiday. Many other states eventually followed suit, although the celebration has yet to be named a national holiday.

While Juneteenth is a holiday tied to American history, it is also celebrated outside the United States, with organizations in other countries using the day to recognize the achievements and the culture of African Americans.

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