Juneteenth is now a federal holiday, after President Biden signed legislation that recognizes June 19 as the day that commemorates the end of slavery in the United States.
Though you may have heard of Juneteenth, do you know the true meaning behind it?
Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP the Magazine.
This historical event dates back to June 19, 1865, when enslaved African Americans in Texas learned that they were free. Although the Emancipation Proclamation declared that as of Jan. 1, 1863, all slaves in rebellious Southern states were free, it took more than two years for the news to spread to Texas and for officials there to announce slavery had been abolished. The holiday commemorating that day is now known as Juneteenth, Freedom Day and/or Emancipation Day, as it marks the day all Black people in the South were finally free. Slavery was outlawed nationwide with the ratification of the 15th Amendment six months later.
"For African Americans in the United States, [Juneteenth] truly is that independence day because prior to that, even though slaves had been freed in many of the other Confederate states, Texas remained a state where they continued to enslave folks,” says Greg Francis, 53, an attorney who focuses on civil rights. It's important to understand the history and its impact because there's a direct link to problems with systemic racism today, he says.
Texas was the first state to make Juneteenth a state holiday, in 1980. Since then, more than 45 other states have followed suit. On June 17, the federal legislation making Juneteenth a national holiday was signed into law after passing unanimously in the U.S. Senate and by a vote of 415-14 in the House.
Two-thirds of Americans support the idea, according to a 2020 Harris Poll taken in the wake of national protests following George Floyd's death last year.
Whether you've known about Juneteenth your entire life or you're just learning about this important day, it's one everyone can commemorate. Here are six ways to do so.