Juneteenth facts: What is the meaning of Juneteenth, what is the celebration about?

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The 155th anniversary of Juneteenth takes place today, on June 19. The day remembers a key historical moment in Black American history. A portmanteau of “June” and “nineteenth,” it is also known as Emancipation Day, and marks the day in 1865 when a group of enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, finally learned that they were finally free people.

The day has become emblematic of the end of slavery in America and is recognised as a day of remembrance.

The USA is still experiencing civil unrest with some of the biggest protests regarding the civil rights of black people since the death of Martin Luther King Jr in 1968.

Despite its clear importance, it is not recognised as a federal holiday.

This year, amid nationwide anti-racism protests following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, many companies have given employees the day off anyway.


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What happened on Juneteenth?

Union Army Major General Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas, a coastal town in America’s south, and told slaves of their emancipation.

Granger read to a crowd: “In accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”

During the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862.

In 1863, the proclamation legally freed millions of enslaved people in the Confederacy, but it exempted those in the Union-loyal border states of Delaware, Maryland, Missouri, and Kentucky.

These states held Confederate sympathies and could have seceded from the USA, so Lincoln exempted them from the proclamation to prevent this.

In April 1864, the Senate attempted to close this loophole by passing the 13th Amendment, prohibiting slavery and involuntary servitude in all states, Union and Confederate.

But the amendment wouldn’t be enacted by ratification until December 1865.

And though the Civil War ended in April 1865 when Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, Virginia, enslaved people in Texas didn’t learn about their freedom until June 19, 1865.

On that day, almost two and a half years after Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, General Gordon Granger of the Union army arrived in Galveston and said: “In accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free,” securing the Union army’s authority over Texas.

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How is Juneteenth celebrated?

Despite being such a monumental event in America’s short history, Juneteenth is not a national holiday.

In total 47 US states and the District of Columbia mark June 19 as a state holiday or observance.

Communities across the country celebrate it with food and festivities, but despite a push by activists over the years, it is still not officially recognised.

And, throughout its history, it has often been overlooked by non-black Americans.

Current events make the day extremely poignant this year, as issues of racist policing and growing inequality come have been coming to a dramatic head.

The death of George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer has caused widespread protests after years of hurt and racist policing plaguing the United States.

To make matters worse, President Donald Trump is hosting a campaign a day after Juneteenth in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the site of one of America’s deadliest acts of racism ever seen.

In 1921, tensions between Tulsa’s black and white communities culminated in a white mob attacking black residents and burning black-owned businesses in a part of the city known as “Black Wall Street”.

The President has done little to tackle systemic racism and has resisted some of the changes proposed by protesters, advocating for the armed forces to attempt to take control and open fire if necessary.

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