The signing of the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln is lauded in history books as the defining moment that ended slavery.
However, this order for liberation was not enforced everywhere in the US until over two years later on June 19th 1865, when slaves who were still being held captive in Texas were set free.
Juneteenth - also called Freedom Day, Black Independence Day, Jubilee Day, or Emancipation Day - is the day on which ALL Americans were finally liberated.
Juneteenth has been celebrated in African-American households, especially those in the South, since the first Juneteenth with parties in the streets and the sharing of oral history, and the tradition has been carried on from generation to generation for over a century.
Many Americans have admittedly never heard of the holiday, so in light of the resurgence of Juneteenth in the media in association with the Black Lives Matter movement, you may be wondering - why does it matter now?
The reality is that Juneteenth has always mattered, but has historically struggled for basic recognition because most state governments never recognized it as an official holiday, many workers were not given the day off to celebrate, and schools failed to teach students about its significance (2,3).
This year Juneteenth coincides with protests against racial injustice in the United States, which call for systemic reform in racism and discrimination against Black Americans.
As a response to this call to action, numerous organizations have announced that Juneteenth will now be recognized as an official paid holiday, many cities have organized virtual gatherings and festivities to celebrate, and political and social change is happening even as we write this article.
The fact that so much of our country doesn't acknowledge such a momentous day, reflects how Black Americans have been historically treated and serves as a reminder of how equality for African-Americans has always been an uphill battle.
The story of freedom on June 19, 1865 is an integral part of the story of America, and the key elements of the American identity are the shared ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These ideals are not dependent on a shared bloodline or ancestry.
Juneteenth is a celebration of African-American freedom, and therefore it is a celebration of American freedom for us all.
- Weisberger, Mindy. “What Is Juneteenth?” LiveScience, Purch, 17 June 2020,
- Wellington, Elizabeth. “Where Juneteenth Comes from and Why We Should All Celebrate It.” The Philadelphia Inquirer, 19 June 2020
- Jackson, Kellie Carter. “Black Joy-Not Corporate Acknowledgment-Is the Heart of Juneteenth.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 19 June 2020,