Last year, the US government finally caught up with the black people who for generations have commemorated the end of slavery in the United States with a day called “Junteenth”.
President Joe Biden declared National Independence Day a federal holiday on June 16 when he signed legislation passed by both houses of Congress.
The Senate unanimously approved the bill; only 14 House Republicans – many from states that were part of the 19th-century slave-holding Confederacy – opposed the measure.
What is this federal holiday and what is its history? Here’s a look:
What is the story of Juneteenth?
The celebration began with the freed enslaved people of Galveston, Texas. Although the Emancipation Proclamation freed enslaved people in the South in 1863, in many places it could only be enforced after the end of the Civil War in 1865.
Laura Smalley, freed from a plantation near Bellville, Texas, recalled in a 1941 interview that her former master had gone off to the Civil War and returned home without telling his slaves what had happened.
“The old master didn’t say it, you know, they were free,” Smalley said at the time. “I think now they’re saying they edited it, six months later. six months And release them on June 19th. That is why we celebrate this day.”
Union Major General Gordon Granger and his troops arrived in Galveston on June 19, 1865, bringing news that the war was over and the enslaved were now free. That was more than two months after Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant in Virginia.
Granger transmitted General Order No. 3, which stated: “The people of Texas are informed that pursuant to a proclamation of the Executive Branch of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and property rights between former masters and slaves, and the link hitherto existing between them becomes that between employer and wage-worker.”
The next year, the now free people of Galveston began celebrating June 16th. Its observance has continued across the nation and around the world ever since. Events include concerts, parades, and Emancipation Proclamation readings.
Why is it called “Junteenth”?
The term Juneteenth is a hybrid of the words June and nineteenth. The holiday was also called Juneteenth Independence Day or Freedom Day.
When did June 16 become a public holiday?
The June 16 National Independence Day Act was enacted on June 17, 2021, two days before the June 16, 2021 holiday.
However, the vast majority of states have already recognized June 16 as a holiday or day of recognition, like Flag Day, and most states hold celebrations. June 16 has been a paid holiday for state employees in Texas, New York, Virginia and Washington for years, and hundreds of companies give employees a day off on June 16.
When is June 16, 2022 and do federal employees get a day off?
This year, federal and private employers are giving workers a day off on Monday, June 20 to observe the holiday since June 19 falls on a Sunday.
Will markets and banks remain closed over the holidays?
Yes, the Federal Reserve System and the New York Stock Exchange have added June 16 to their list of observed holidays and will close on Monday June 20 since June 19 falls on a Sunday.
With most financial institutions sticking to the Fed’s holiday schedule, the vast majority of banks are expected to remain closed on Monday as well.
The US Postal Service will also be closed on June 20, as will all federal government buildings and offices.
How do you celebrate June 16th?
Early celebrations included church picnics, family reunions, and speeches.
Today, while many of these traditions remain, some larger cities hold parades and festivals for the community.
June 16 marks the day in 1865 that the Emancipation Proclamation was delivered to the enslaved people of Texas, more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued it. After June 16 became a federal holiday, more companies got involved to promote and celebrate it — although not all efforts were well received. Dartmouth history professor Matthew Delmont joins LX News to discuss celebrating the bank holiday respectfully.
Why did June 16 become a public holiday?
The national reckoning of races helped make June 16 the first new federal holiday since 1983, when Martin Luther King Jr. Day was created.
The bill was sponsored by Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and had 60 co-sponsors. Bipartisan support emerged as lawmakers struggled to overcome divisions that still simmered after the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota last year.
Supporters of the holiday have been working to ensure June 16 celebrants don’t forget why the day exists.
“In 1776 the land was liberated from the British, but the people were not all free,” said Dee Evans, National Director of Communications for the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation, in 2019. “June 19, 1865 was actually when the people and the whole country was actually free.”
There is also a sentiment to use the day to remember the sacrifices made for freedom in the United States – especially in these racially and politically charged days. Para LaNell Agboga, museum site coordinator at the George Washington Carver Museum, Cultural and Genealogy Center in Austin, Texas, said, “Our freedoms are fragile, and it doesn’t take much for things to go backwards.”
Professor Wornie Reed describes his experiences during the historic 1963 March on Washington and why the current social unrest is making June 16, 2020 different than ever.