What is Juneteenth? Holiday marking Emancipation Proclamation takes on extra importance in 2020

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Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated Juneteenth’s relation to slavery. It celebrates the Emancipation Proclamation, but the Emancipation Proclamation didn’t apply to all states in the US. The 13th Amendment brought an end to slavery. On June 19, Americans around the country will celebrate Juneteenth, a holiday commemorating the Emancipation Proclamation in the […]

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated Juneteenth’s relation to slavery. It celebrates the Emancipation Proclamation, but the Emancipation Proclamation didn’t apply to all states in the US. The 13th Amendment brought an end to slavery.

On June 19, Americans around the country will celebrate Juneteenth, a holiday commemorating the Emancipation Proclamation in the United States.

This year, the annual celebration of freedom comes as the country grapples with its longstanding history of systemic racism, as well as the fate of its Confederate monuments, flags and symbols amid nationwide protests against police brutality and racism following the death of George Floyd.

“Juneteenth is a unifying holiday. It is the completion of the celebration of freedom in America,” said Steve Williams, president of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation. 

In this June 20, 2014, file photo, Civil War re-enactors Lt. James Hayes, from left, Samuel Stephenson and Marvin-Alonzo Greer participate in a Juneteenth celebration at the Atlanta Cyclorama and Civil War Museum in Atlanta. Juneteenth celebration started with the freed slaves of Galveston, Texas. Although the Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves in the South in 1863, it could not be enforced in many places until after the end of the Civil War in 1865.
In this June 20, 2014, file photo, Civil War re-enactors Lt. James Hayes, from left, Samuel Stephenson and Marvin-Alonzo Greer participate in a Juneteenth celebration at the Atlanta Cyclorama and Civil War Museum in Atlanta. Juneteenth celebration started with the freed slaves of Galveston, Texas. Although the Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves in the South in 1863, it could not be enforced in many places until after the end of the Civil War in 1865.

Juneteenth is often celebrated with joyful community and family gatherings, but many of these events will likely go virtual this year because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Here is what you should know about Juneteenth: 

What is Juneteenth? 

On June 19, 1865, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger informed a reluctant community in Galveston, Texas, that President Abraham Lincoln two and a half years earlier had freed enslaved Americans in rebel states. He pressed locals to comply with the directive. 

Although Lincoln proclaimed the emancipation of slaves, effective on January 1, 1863, slave owners were responsible for telling their slaves that they were now free and some ignored the order until Union troops arrived to enforce it, according to Cliff Robinson, founder of Juneteenth.com. This took time, and Texas was the last Confederate state to have the proclamation announced.

While the story of Texas’ emancipation is the most widely known, Williams noted that other significant events in the history of emancipation took place on and around that date, as well. He said the first known Juneteenth celebrations began in 1866 and spread across the country as African Americans migrated to new cities.

Today, 47 states and Washington, D.C. have recognized Juneteenth as either a state holiday or ceremonial holiday. And Juneteenth celebrations have been seen in episodes of television shows like “Black-ish” and “Atlanta”.

Activists are still pushing for wider recognition, including a designation as a national holiday and an acknowledgement by Wall Street and the New York Stock Exchange.

“Federal recognition is really what our job is,” Williams said.

Juneteenth and reparations: Ta-Nehisi Coates, Danny Glover to testify in Juneteenth House hearing on slavery reparations

Where does the name ‘Juneteenth’ come from?

Juneteenth is a combination of “June” and “nineteenth,” in honor of the day that Granger announced the abolition of slavery in Texas. The holiday is also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day.

How do people celebrate Juneteenth? 

Juneteenth is typically celebrated with educational activities for children, parades, concerts, beauty pageants and readings of the Emancipation Proclamation, Williams said.

At cookouts, he said red food and drink like strawberry soda and red velvet cake are traditional. Red, white and blue are on the Juneteenth flag. The color red symbolizes that “from the middle passage to George Floyd our blood has been spilled across America,” Williams said.

Juneteenth: Twitter and Square will observe Juneteenth as company holiday, CEO Dorsey says

How will Juneteenth be different this year?

Williams said many local events will be livestreamed online and in lieu of traditional parades, some organizers have planned caravans.

With more states lifting coronavirus-related restrictions, Robinson said it’s possible people will still gather together physically this year and urged people to follow social distancing guidelines and wear masks if they do. Robinson said he believes the nationwide protests following Floyd’s death will draw more people.

“That certainly will allow and inspire more people participate in Juneteenth celebrations,” Robinson said. “They just have to be made aware that the celebration exists.”

He noted that more companies have started to recognize Juneteenth amid the ongoing protests against racism. Jack Dorsey, who is CEO of Twitter and digital payment platform Square, said both companies will make Juneteenth a company holiday this year at all of its offices across the world.

Hulu is shifting the premiere dates for two original shows “Love, Victor” and “Taste the Nation,” so as not to detract from Juneteenth. The company announced it is also taking action to “fight against the injustice” and support the Black Lives Matter movement by donating $5 million to nonprofit organizations, including the NAACP.

“The date represents an important turning point for our nation and for human rights, and we believe that now, more than ever, it deserves to have its own day in the spotlight,” the tweet read. 

President Donald Trump had planned to hold a campaign rally on Juneteenth in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the site of a 1921 massacre that saw white men attack and kill Black residents in a Black business district. Facing a backlash over the date, Trump announced Friday night he would move the Tulsa rally one day later.

“We had previously scheduled our #MAGA Rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for June 19th — a big deal,” he wrote on his Twitter account. “Unfortunately, however, this would fall on the Juneteenth Holiday. Many of my African American friends and supporters have reached out to suggest that we consider changing the date out of respect for this Holiday, and in observance of this important occasion and all that it represents. I have therefore decided to move our rally to Saturday, June 20th, in order to honor their requests.”

In the media: Netflix curates new collection of ‘Black Lives Matter’ titles, Hulu honors Juneteenth

Was Juneteenth the end of slavery in the United States?

While Juneteenth marks the day Texas was informed of the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing the slaves there as it had in other secessionist states, it did not apply to Union states, such as Maryland, which had slaves but had not seceded in the Civil War. The Thirteenth Amendment, which was also ratified in 1865, freed slaves everywhere in the United States. 

Follow N’dea Yancey-Bragg on Twitter: @NdeaYanceyBragg

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: What is Juneteenth? Holiday celebrates Emancipation Proclamation

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