Juneteenth, a portmanteau of June 19, is a holiday that honors the end of slavery in the United States.
On June 19, 1865, federal troops marched on Galveston, Texas, to take control of the state. Even though the Civil War had been over for two months, slavery remained in Texas.
Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Texas and famously read General Orders No. 3, which stated, “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”
That day came two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863. Not all states immediately ended slavery when Lincoln signed the order, as it was signed in the middle of the Civil War.
While other dates — such as the Confederate Army’s surrender in the Civil War, the ratification of the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery, or the day Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation — could similarly be viewed as the “end” of slavery, Juneteenth is the day most people associate with its conclusion.
As of 2021, Juneteenth is not a federal holiday, but that could soon change. The Senate approved a bill on Tuesday to make Juneteenth a federal holiday — the bill is expected to easily pass the House, which would send it to President Joe Biden for his signature.
Under the new legislation, the federal holiday would be known as Juneteenth National Independence Day. It’s unclear if the bill will be signed into law before June 19 of this year.
Currently, Juneteenth is recognized as a state holiday or special day in 48 of the 50 U.S. states, as well as Washington, D.C. — but it’s only a paid holiday for state employees in a few states.
Congress, which has the power to make federal holidays, has not added one since Martin Luther King Day in 1983.
Despite most U.S. states recognizing Juneteenth as a holiday, a lot of Americans still don’t know what Juneteenth means. According to a recent Gallup survey, 28% of U.S. adults say they know “nothing at all” about Juneteenth.
Awareness of the date also breaks along party lines. The survey found that 16% of Democrats know “nothing at all” about Juneteenth, compared with 45% of Republicans.
Juneteenth celebrations this Saturday may include religious services, educational events, family gatherings and festivals. Some areas of the country, including Kansas and Texas, have parades on Juneteenth.