Juneteenth was recognized as a federal holiday on June 17, 2021. Even though it is in its infancy on paper, Juneteenth is considered the longest-running African American holiday in history.
The National Museum of African American History and Culture notes that Juneteenth marks a significant date in American history. June 19, 1865 marks the day when the Union Army arrived in Galveston, Texas, under General Gordon Granger, and announced to the locals that all enslaved African Americans were free. While the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on January 1, 1863, and the Civil War ended in April 1865, it took time before the end of slavery was actually enforced in resistant states like Texas.
Reactions to freedom ranged from utter joy to pure shock. Some former slaves awaited job offers from plantation owners, but others sought new lives elsewhere, primarily in the northern United States. Settling in new areas brought challenges, but individuals rose to those challenges.
The first of what would become an annual “Jubilee Day” celebration took place in Texas in the year following Granger’s arrival. Through the years, the day took on the name “Juneteenth” (a shortening of June nineteenth) and featured celebrations with prayer services, barbecues, music, and other social activities.
Texas was the first state to make Juneteenth an official holiday, with others following suit in subsequent years. It wasn’t until June 2021 that Congress passed a resolution establishing the celebration of Juneteenth as a national holiday. It was signed into law on June 17, 2021, a mere two days before the first official federal commemoration.
Juneteenth remains a celebration of not only freedom, but also family and the joy surrounding release from oppression. According to Juneteenth.com, special foods and beverages are served for Juneteenth celebrations, particularly those not available or consumed on a daily basis and many that are red in color. Celebrants recall their heritage and culture while looking ahead to future opportunities.