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Juneteenth, America’s celebration of the end of slavery, explained

Juneteenth is commemorated every June 19 to celebrate the end of slavery. Here’s why it’s getting more attention this year

FILE - In this June 19, 2018, file photo, Zebiyan Fields, 11, at center, drums alongside more than 20 kids at the front of the Juneteenth parade in Flint, Mich. Juneteenth celebration started with the freed slaves of Galveston, Texas. Although the Emancip
In this June 19, 2018, file photo, Zebiyan Fields, 11, at center, drums alongside more than 20 kids at the front of the Juneteenth parade in Flint, Mich. 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. (Jake May/The Flint Journal via AP, File)
Jake May

SALT LAKE CITY — Juneteenth, which is commemorated every year on June 19 to celebrate the abolition of slavery, has received more attention this year as it coincides with protests across the United States against racial injustice.

The date has been the subject of national headlines, as President Donald Trump recently decided to move a campaign rally scheduled for June 19th in Tulsa, Oklahoma, after facing backlash.

Meanwhile, despite the fact that Juneteenth is not a federal holiday (although more and more people have begun to call for the day to be recognized nationally), some companies like Twitter, Nike and the NFL have announced they will make Juneteenth a paid company holiday, according to CNBC.

So what is the significance of Juneteenth? Here’s some background on where the holiday comes from, how it’s celebrated and why it matters.

What is Juneteenth?

Juneteenth (a mix of the words “June” and “nineteenth”) has sometimes been called America’s “second Independence Day,” according to National Geographic.

It commemorates the Emancipation Proclamation and the end of slavery in the United States.

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

The holiday stems from June 19, 1865, when Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, to announce that the Civil War was over and that the 250,000 slaves of Texas were free, according to Fox News.

Although the Emancipation Proclamation had been signed two years earlier in 1863, the lack of Union soldiers in the Confederate state of Texas meant that the proclamation was not enforced there until Granger’s arrival, according to CNBC.

The announcement led to celebrations among former slaves across the state of Texas. In the following years, freed slaves celebrated each anniversary with prayer services and church gatherings, as well as speeches and readings, and picnics and rodeos, according to CNBC.

How is Juneteenth commemorated today?

Many families and communities still celebrate Juneteenth with parades, concerts, cookouts and other events, according to USA Today.

At Juneteenth cookouts and barbecues, red foods like red velvet cake or strawberry soda are traditional, as red is a “a symbol of ingenuity and resilience in bondage,” according to The New York Times.

Cities like Atlanta and Washington, D.C., typically host parades and festivals to celebrate Juneteenth, according to the Times. And Galveston — where Juneteenth began — continues to host events for the holiday, which usually draw in around 10,000 people every year.

Nearly all states (excluding only Hawaii, North Dakota and South Dakota) currently recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday or day of observance, according to CNBC.

The U.S. Senate passed a resolution in 2018 which would designate June 19 as “Juneteenth Independence Day,” but it has not yet reached the House, according to The New York Times.

Why is Juneteenth getting more attention?

President Trump faced backlash when he announced last week that he would be holding a campaign rally on June 19 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Tulsa was the site of a racially motivated attack from a white mob on black residents and black-owned businesses in 1921, according to CNN.

After facing backlash for the date and location of the rally, some supporters of the president have said that he did not know about the significance of June 19. Trump has since moved the rally to June 20, according to The Associated Press.

“The president moving the date by a day once he was informed on what the Juneteenth was, that was a good decision on his part,” said South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, who is the only black Republican senator, according to The Associated Press.

Meanwhile, in response to protests and conversations around the country about racial injustice, some businesses have announced they will be commemorating Juneteenth as a paid company holiday, according to CNBC. These businesses include Twitter and Square, Nike, the National Football League and Vox Media.

“Both Twitter and Square are making #Juneteenth (June 19th) a company holiday in the US, forevermore,” Jack Dorsey, the founder and CEO of Twitter, tweeted last week. “A day for celebration, education, and connection.”