On Thursday, June 17, US President Joe Biden signed a new law making June 19 or Juneteenth a national holiday recognised by the federal government. June 19 commemorates the emancipation of enslaved Black Americans in the United States after the American Civil War.
The Juneteenth National Independence Day bill was passed in both US Congress this week. The Senate had passed the bill with no debate after which the House approved the bill with an overwhelming majority on Wednesday by a vote of 415 to 14 with little opposition coming in from the Republican Party.
Signing the bill on Thursday, Biden said this law is one of the greatest honours he will have as President."I have only been president for several months, but I think this will go down, for me, as one of the greatest honours I will have had as president," President Biden said
“Throughout history, Juneteenth has been known by many names: Jubilee Day. Freedom Day. Liberation Day. Emancipation Day. And today, a national holiday,” Vice President Kamala Harris said as she also signed the legislation in her capacity as Vice President.
The new law has immediately come into effect and will be recognised as the eleventh Federal Holiday in the US coming nearly after four decades after the last one which honoured American civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr.
So, what the origin story behind Juneteenth and how is it celebrated? Know everything here:
What is Juneteenth?
Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. It is created by combing the words “June” and “nineteenth” together. On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation declaring all enslaved people in the rebellious states be free. However, the receipt of President Lincoln’s Emancipation proclamation reached the state of Texas reached almost two and half years later when Major General Gordon Granger landed at Galveston, Texas, and informed enslaved African-Americans of their freedom and end the Civil War on June 19, 1865.
As per Juneteenth.com, General Granger’s announcement read the following, "The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer."
General granger’s announcement was seen many as the end of slavery in the US. Texas was the last state in the US where the holding enslaved was still being practised by that time.
The ending of slavery could not eradicate racism in the US. Over the years the US has suffered from painful incidents of racism. However, the efforts to establish Juneteenth gain momentum in May 2020 after the death of George Floyd, Breanna Taylor and other African-Americans at the hands of police officers which led to anti-racism protests and effectively re-energising the Black Lives Matter movement.
How is it celebrated?
The popularity of Juneteenth has grown over the years and the day has become an annual celebration. The day’s celebration and traditions vary across the US, although food is also an integral part of the celebration. In some states, the day is celebrated by praying and bringing families together. Some cities involve public readings, singing, picnics, contest and concerts. In some celebrations, people hold larger events like parades and festivals. Another celebration involves descendants of people who have been enslaved taking out a pilgrimage to Galveston.
Galveston is an important part of the celebration. While celebrations in 2020 were largely subdued by the coronavirus pandemic, this year the city will dedicate a mural entitled “Absolute Equality” on the spot where General Granger informed enslaved African-Americans of their freedom.