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Juneteenth celebrations are just around the corner—but what are we really celebrating?

Juneteenth celebrations began in Texas with the freeing of slaves on June 19, 1865 — two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves of the confederate states. Though you may be inclined to think this happened immediately, it took many years for enslaved people across the nation to be freed.

A brief history lesson

The last of the states to free its slaves was Texas, as it took two and a half years for word of Lincoln’s proclamation to officially reach the state.

On June 19, 1865, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, announcing the end of the Civil War and slavery. However, it is believed that many slave owners were aware of the fact previously and chose to withhold the information to keep slave labor going.

“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free,” Granger said as he issued General Order No. 3. “This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property, between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them, become that between employer and hired labor. The freed are advised to remain at their present homes, and work for wages.”

Today, we celebrate this date in history as Juneteenth, a holiday that marks the true end of slavery in the United States. The holiday is also known as our nation’s second independence day.

In 1980, Texas became the first state to recognize Juneteenth as an official holiday. The holiday has been celebrated for years across the United States, but it didn’t receive recognition as a national holiday until just last year.

A bill sponsored by Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and 60 other co-sponsors, led to its designation as a federal holiday—the first new holiday since 1983 when Martin Luther King Jr. Day was created. President Joe Biden signed it into law on June 17, 2021.

What does “Juneteenth” really mean?

The term Juneteenth blends the words “June” and “nineteenth.” The holiday is also known as Freedom Day or Juneteenth Independence Day.

The holiday was first celebrated by newly freed Black Texans in Galveston with church celebrations, speeches, picnics and the like. In the years that followed, the holiday began to spread as the population moved to other parts of the nation and the world.

Today, Juneteenth is celebrated with family barbeques, commemorative events and fireworks, and the holiday places an emphasis on reflection and rejoicing.

For example, it’s tradition to drink red beverages such as hibiscus tea or strawberry soda. Many local historians say the color is a symbol of the bloodshed and sacrifice of enslaved African Americans.

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