The History & Heritage of Juneteenth

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On Juneteenth we celebrate the end of slavery for African Americans in the United States. The holiday also encourages teaching and embracing traditions to honor the rich tapestry of black culture throughout the country.

Did You Know?

Juneteenth is the oldest national celebration commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.

Learn about the history of this holiday — celebrated annually on June 19th — by exploring the following five facts.

1. Enslaved People Did Not Immediately Find Freedom

Following the issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, not all enslaved people immediately found freedom.

The Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in states then in rebellion against the United States. Union troops operating in said states gave support towards the Proclamation. This, however, did not apply to the border states.

Read About the Emancipation Proclamation Here

2. There Were Limited Options for Celebrating

When freed African Americans tried to celebrate the first anniversary of the announcement a year later in 1864, they faced a problem — Segregation laws. These laws were expanding rapidly, so there were no public places or parks they were permitted to use for celebrations.

In the 1870s, former enslaved people in the Houston, Texas area pooled together $800 and purchased 10 acres of land, which they deemed “Emancipation Park.” Until the 1950s, it was the only public park and swimming pool in the Houston area open to Black Americans.

Read More About Emancipation Park Here

3. Juneteenth Was a Slow Burn

Juneteenth celebrations waned during the era of Jim Crow laws until the civil rights movement of the 1960s, when the Poor People’s Campaign, planned by Martin Luther King Jr., was purposely scheduled to coincide with the date. The Poor People’s Campaign brought Juneteenth back to the forefront when participants took the celebrations back to their home states.

The holiday, Juneteenth, was reborn.

MLK's Poor People’s Campaign

4. The Juneteenth Flag

Did you know there is a flag for Juneteenth?

Juneteenth flag designer, L.J. Graf, packed lots of meaning into her design. The colors red, white, and blue echo the American flag to symbolize that the enslaved people and their descendants were Americans. The star in the middle pays homage to Texas, while the bursting “new star” on the “horizon” of the red and blue fields represents a new freedom and a new people.

Read More About the Juneteenth Flag Here

5. Juneteenth is a Federal Holiday

On June 17, 2021, President Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, which officially made Juneteenth a federal holiday.

This holiday is the first holiday to be approved since President Ronald Reagan signed a 1983 bill that approved Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a federal holiday.

The Juneteenth National Independence Day Act