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Juneteenth: The Nation’s Second Independence Day

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Juneteenth marks when the last slaves in the United States were finally freed.
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Juneteenth is still a very new concept to many people. Unfortunately for several decades, it was not taught much, if at all, in many schools, despite being such a major piece of American history. At the same time, it is a major part of culture and history for an entire community of people that has celebrated the day for centuries. The Black community in the U.S. has been celebrating Juneteenth since it first began and started spreading in the 1860s.

The holiday was not designated as a federal holiday until 2021, when President Biden signed it into law on June 17th of that year.

Most Americans celebrate the Fourth of July as Independence Day, but Juneteenth is the true Independence Day, as it is the day that marks when all Americans were independent and free. On June 19, 1865, Union troops reached Galveston, Texas where 250,000 were still enslaved. This was over two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by Abraham Lincoln and two months after Robert E. Lee, the General of the Confederate Army, surrendered. Meaning that people were still enslaved in Texas two years after their freedom was declared and two months after their freedom had been solidified. Slow communication methods at the time combined with a lack of care to communicate news of this nature led to the extreme delay.

Former slaves in Texas started the first Juneteenth celebration on the 19th of June, then referring to it as Jubilee Day.

The current name of Juneteenth is a clever combination of June and Nineteenth. During the holiday’s original celebrations, it was a day in which the community in Texas of ex-slaves banded together for celebrations with music, prayer, food, and various other activities in order to celebrate their newfound freedom. Over the years, many of the traditions have continued on and been practiced by each new generation. As the freed people began leaving Texas in the mid-late 1860s, they took with them the celebration of Juneteenth and spread the holiday to be celebrated among communities of former slaves and their supporters in states all over the country.

As the state that started it all, Texas was the first state to formally recognize the holiday, making it an official state holiday in 1979. This came more than a century after the holiday began. Many states followed suit over the next several decades until finally, President Biden declared the day to be recognized by the entire country.

With the celebration of Juneteenth came the era known as Reconstruction when the country was working to rebuild after the Civil War. The newly freed Black community immediately began fighting for their rights and the respect that they deserved, something that unfortunately to this day is still an ongoing battle.

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