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  • Writer's pictureRich Honiball

Today in Brand History: Juneteenth

(photo credit:

On June 17, 2021, Juneteenth was officially recognized as a federal holiday in the United States with the signing of the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act by President Joe Biden. It is the oldest nationally-celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. The road to nationwide recognition was shaped by a combination of factors, including historic events, social movements, and a growing recognition of the importance of Juneteenth.

The history of Juneteenth dates back to June 19, 1865, when Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, and delivered General Order No. 3, proclaiming the emancipation of enslaved African Americans. This proclamation came more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation

Proclamation. There are many theories as to the delay in the enforcement of the proclamation, but it was most likely due to a variety of factors, including the limited presence of Union troops in Texas and the resistance of slaveholders.

While this marked the end of slavery, the proclamation itself and the years that followed showed the long road ahead. "The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere." The period after the proclamation is often referred to as "the scatter" as many fled to other areas of the country.

The first Juneteenth celebration was held in the Texas State Capital in 1867, led by the Freedmen's Bureau. It became part of the calendar of public events by 1872, according to the Texas State Historical Association. It served as a commemoration of the end of slavery and the resilience and strength of the African American community. The day was marked by gatherings, parades, speeches, and other festivities, often centered around community, education, and reflection.

Over the years, Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, or Emancipation Day, became an annual celebration of freedom for African Americans. It grew in significance and spread to different parts of the country as African Americans migrated from the South to other regions. It became an opportunity for communities to come together, celebrate their heritage, and advocate for social justice and equality. Juneteenth celebrations played a vital role in preserving African American history, culture, and traditions.

(photo credit: Encyclopedia Britannica)

The enactment of Jim Crow laws dampened the celebration of freedom. These state and local laws, introduced in the Southern United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, enforced racial segregation ("Jim Crow" being a pejorative term for African Americans). Many of these laws remained in force until the 1960s, restricting the rights and freedoms of African Americans and perpetuating systemic racism. Despite these challenges, Juneteenth remained a symbol of resilience and hope within the African American community, representing the ongoing struggle for equality and justice.

The celebration of Juneteenth regained momentum during the civil rights movement in the 1960s. The Poor People's March planned by Martin Luther King Jr. was purposely scheduled to coincide with the date. March participants took the celebrations back to their home states, and soon the holiday was reborn.

In 1997, Ben Haith, founder of the National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation, and illustrator Lisa Jeanna Graf created the first Juneteenth Flag to symbolize a new era of freedom for all Americans. The present version was first flown in 2000. The colors and symbols on the flag are representative of freedom and the end of slavery. The colors red, white, and blue echo the American flag to symbolize that the enslaved people and their descendants were Americans. The design of the Juneteenth flag depicts a bursting new star on the horizon, paying homage to Texas, representing a new freedom and a new people.

(photo credit: Brookings Institute)

The protests against racial injustice in 2020, sparked by the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and the Black Lives Matter movement, played a pivotal role in raising awareness about systemic racism and the call for societal change. These events ignited a national conversation about racial equality, prompting a renewed examination of historical injustices and the celebration of African American heritage.

The push for federal recognition of Juneteenth gained new momentum, and Congress pushed through legislation in the summer of 2021. In the House, the measure passed by a vote of 415 to 14. Some who voted against the measure argued that calling the new holiday Juneteenth Independence Day, echoing July 4, would create confusion and force Americans to choose a celebration of freedom based on their race.

While it is a federal holiday, its recognition at the state level varies. In 1980, Texas became the first state to designate Juneteenth as a holiday. In 2023, 28 states will legally recognize Juneteenth as a public holiday, according to the Pew Research Center. Juneteenth's growing recognition signifies the importance of acknowledging and commemorating the end of slavery and the ongoing journey toward equality and justice.


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