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Juneteenth[a] (officially Juneteenth National Independence Day and also known as Jubilee Day, Liberation Day, and Emancipation Day) is a federal holiday in the United States celebrating the emancipation of African-Americans who had been enslaved in the United States. Originating in Galveston, Texas, in 1866, it has been celebrated annually on June 19 throughout the United States, and as a federal holiday since 2021, when President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act. It is commemorated on the anniversary date of the June 19, 1865, announcement of General Order No. 3 by Union Army general Gordon Granger, proclaiming freedom from slavery in Texas.
President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1862 had officially outlawed slavery in Texas and the other states that had rebelled against the Union almost two and a half years earlier. Enforcement of the Proclamation generally relied on the advance of Union troops. Texas, as the most remote of the slave states had seen an expansion of slavery, and had a low presence of Union troops as the American Civil War ended; thus enforcement there had been slow and inconsistent prior to Granger’s announcement. Although the Emancipation Proclamation declared an end to slavery in the Confederate States, slavery was still legal and practiced in two Union border states – Delaware and Kentucky – until December 6, 1865, when ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution abolished chattel slavery nationwide. Additionally, Indian Territories that had sided with the Confederacy, namely the Choctaw, were the last to release those enslaved, in 1866.[b]
Celebrations date to 1866, at first involving church-centered community gatherings in Texas. It spread across the South and became more commercialized in the 1920s and 1930s, often centering on a food festival. Participants in the Great Migration out of the South carried their celebrations to other parts of the country. During the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, these celebrations were eclipsed by the struggle for postwar civil rights, but grew in popularity again in the 1970s with a focus on African-American freedom and arts. As of 2021, North Dakota and South Dakota are the only states that do not recognize Juneteenth, according to the Congressional Research Service.
Modern observance is primarily in local celebrations. Traditions include public readings of the Emancipation Proclamation, singing traditional songs such as “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing”, and reading of works by noted African-American writers, such as Ralph Ellison and Maya Angelou. Celebrations include rodeos, street fairs, cookouts, family reunions, park parties, historical reenactments, and Miss Juneteenth contests. Juneteenth is also celebrated by the Mascogos, descendants of Black Seminoles who escaped from U.S. slavery in 1852 and settled in Coahuila, Mexico.