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Juneteenth, celebrated on June 19th each year, is a significant date in American history, marking the effective end of slavery in the United States. Its origins and the reasons it is commemorated today stem from key historical events and the broader struggle for African American freedom and equality.

Origins and Historical Context

orange and black info graphic titled Juneteenth with a quote from Major Gordon Granger, "The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free..."

Juneteenth dates back to June 19, 1865, when Union Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, and issued General Order No. 3, which declared the freedom of all enslaved people in the state. Texas was among the last Confederate states where emancipation was announced, coming two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, which had legally freed slaves in Confederate states. However, the enforcement of the proclamation relied on the progress of Union troops. Since Texas had a minimal Union presence, it was not enforced there until Granger's declaration.

The First Celebrations

A black and white photograph of a group of men and women from 1900

Emancipation Day celebration, June 19, 1900, held in "East Woods" on East 24th Street in Austin.

(Photo Credit: Austin History Center)

The first Juneteenth celebrations began in 1866, the year following Granger’s announcement. These early observances included prayer meetings, singing spirituals, and feasting. Over time, the day has evolved to include a range of cultural festivities that celebrate African American culture and achievements, such as parades, rodeos, street fairs, cookouts, family reunions, park parties, historical reenactments, and Miss Juneteenth contests.

Broader Significance

A group of Black women and men with their fists up. The man in front of the group is holding a red, black, and green flag

(Photo credit: Justin Merriman / Getty Images)

Juneteenth serves several functions in American culture. It is a symbol of freedom and a celebration of the end of the brutal practice of slavery. It also offers a moment to reflect on the struggles and contributions of African Americans to the nation. Over the decades, the day has also served as an occasion for advocating civil rights. During the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s, Juneteenth was used as a platform for pushing for racial equality.

Federal Recognition

photo of President Joe Biden holding a blue folder with a document inside

(Photo credit: AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

While Juneteenth has been celebrated in various parts of the United States for over a century, it gained greater prominence and recognition towards the end of the 20th century and into the 21st century. The day was recognized as a state holiday or special day of observance in forty-five states and the District of Columbia. On June 17, 2021, Juneteenth National Independence Day was officially designated as a federal holiday in the United States by President Joe Biden, signifying formal recognition of its historical importance.


Juneteenth is not just a historical date but also a reflection of the ongoing journey toward equality and recognition of African American struggles and achievements. It encapsulates a pivotal moment in American history while also serving as a day for African Americans to reaffirm their cultural heritage and continue their fight for justice and equality.


1. Gordon Granger, General Order No. 3, 1865.

2. “Juneteenth: A Celebration of Freedom” by Charles A. Taylor.

3. “The Historical Legacy of Juneteenth” by Dr. Shennette Garrett-Scott.

4. Public Law No: 117-17, Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, U.S. Congress, 2021.

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