Juneteenth: What is it and why do Americans celebrate it?

Juneteenth National Independence Day, June 19, commemorates the day that U.S. General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865 — and shared the news that the Emancipation Proclamation had been passed two years earlier. The Civil War had ended two months before June 1865.

Last year, Juneteenth became the nation’s 12th federal holiday through a 415-14 vote in the House of Representatives.

President Biden signed the bill into law on June 17, 2021.

As of recently, the day is colloquially known as Juneteenth — a contracted word that combines the month of June with the number 19. The federal acknowledgment happened two days before Juneteenth’s 156th anniversary.

Juneteenth observers commemorate the day with parades, festivals, speaking engagements, social justice events, and charitable action.

For the first time this year, the stock markets in the United States will be closed on Juneteenth, Monday, June 20. Juneteenth is a paid holiday for federal employees.

History and Background

Slaves in the remaining rebel states were uninformed that President Abraham Lincoln had issued the 1863 proclamation that emancipated slaves in Confederate states when General Granger communicated the news in Texas about the Emancipation Proclamation.


This archive photo from June 19, 1900, shows African Americans gathering in Texas for Emancipation Day, now known as Juneteenth. The federal holiday commemorates the day in 1865 when slaves in Texas first learned they were freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, which was issued in 1863. (The Portal to Texas History Austin History Center, Austin Public Library)

The slave trade remained in effect after Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s surrender to the Union’s Ulysses S. Grant in Virginia on April 9, 1865, and Lincoln’s death on April 15, 1865, according to historians.

Approximately 250,000 slaves were freed in Texas following the army’s announcement.