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Juneteenth: America's second Independence Day

On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed and put into effect the Emancipation Proclamation, making slavery in the United States illegal. Two and a half years later, on June 19, 1865, the news of the Emancipation Proclamation finally reached Galveston, Texas and the slaves who were still in bondage. This is the start of what is now known in the United States as Juneteenth, when all slaves were finally set free.

Juneteenth has become a widespread celebration among the African-American community to celebrate the end of Black slavery in the United States. When Major General Gordon Granger brought the news of emancipation, reactions varied from shock to joy. From then on, Juneteenth has been celebrated in various ways with barbecues, rodeos, parades, and community fairs. The first celebrations were a way for newly freed people to reassure each other, pray for and reunite with remaining family members. A large part of Juneteenth that is still observed today is education and self-improvement, featuring guest speakers. Celebrations continued in the South for years until a steady decline began in the early 1900s. This was due to information about Juneteenth and the ending of slavery being left out of textbooks in schools. In addition, because June 19 would often fall on a weekday, very few celebrations would occur unless it happened to be over a weekend.

The revival of Juneteenth celebrations were due in part to the Civil Rights movement in the 1950’s and 60’s, when the message of overcoming struggles faced by African Americans in the fight for racial equality were at its peak. After the Poor People’s March in Washington D.C. in 1968, many of those who attended brought back Juneteenth celebrations to their cities. Today, Juneteenth serves as both a celebration of African American history in America, as well as freedom, achievement, and is sometimes referred to as “America’s second Independence Day.”

To learn more about Juneteenth, the National Registry of Juneteenth Organizations and Supporter’s website includes history, ways to get involved, and how to celebrate Juneteenth.