Why And How We Celebrate Juneteenth, a New National Holiday

Yes, Juneteenth (short for June 19) has only been a national holiday since President Biden signed the holiday into law last year when he signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act. It marks the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was added in 1983. This year, the federal holiday, also known as Freedom Day or Jubilee Day, is technically on Sunday, June 19. Still, many will celebrate it on Monday, June 20. You may find some organizations and federal institutions will be closed on Monday to observe the holiday.

However, Juneteenth has been celebrated every year since 1865, and it is thought to be the longest-running African-American holiday. As old as this holiday is, marking the end of slavery in the United States, more than half of the American population knows nearly nothing about the holiday or why it is celebrated.

“The emancipation of enslaved Black Americans didn’t mark the end of America’s work to deliver on the promise of equality; it only marked the beginning. To honor the true meaning of Juneteenth, we have to continue toward that promise because we’ve not gotten there yet,” said Biden as he was poised to sign the new law into existence.

With the deaths of several African Americans in 2020, like Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and especially George Floyd, sparking protests against police brutality around the country and Black Lives Matters initiatives, the holiday was brought to the forefront.

The History of the event:

Galveston, Texas, was not complying with the mandates of the Emancipation Proclamation, which had been signed into law two and a half years before the day we now know as Juneteenth, so federal troops were sent into Galveston on that fateful day to take control of the state and ensure that all enslaved people would be freed. U.S. General Gordon Granger read General Orders No. 3: “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”

Why is this Juneteenth especially significant? 

Now that this is recognized as a national holiday, more attention is being paid to this holiday than ever before. People are beginning to realize that this is more than just about ending slavery in America. It helps shine a light on some of the ongoing problems the African American population still faces today. It opens up the possibility for conversations about how to improve relations between black and white people. It gives a platform for discussing some of the daily problems and struggles that African American families face.  

This national attention to the holiday, celebrating and commemorating the event, is a very positive thing for Americans, not just our black citizens. It is a chance to start open discussions and to celebrate with one another.

How to celebrate and observe Juneteenth:

Despite this being a legal holiday, banks and other corporations, even some courts of law, are not required to be closed on Monday. State agencies and schools will be closed, however. Illinois will observe by lowering all government flags at half-staff and raising a Juneteenth flag at the Illinois capitol.

There will be music festivals, marches, family picnics, and parades across the country. Though a somber subject, this is considered to be a joyous occasion. Many churches will hold services and celebrations to commemorate the day as well.

If you and your family want to celebrate or participate in the holiday, consider patronizing a black-owned restaurant or business. Fly a Juneteenth flag at your home, office, business, or place of worship.

Take the kids down to the Marshall library and read up on the history of Juneteenth. There are books and documentaries and movies of all kinds on the subject. Take the time to watch something about the history of this day or read up on the subject.

This new, yet very old, holiday is a fascinating and important part of our American history now as much as ever.