[5 MIN READ]
In this article:
- Juneteenth celebrates the day when thousands of Black people in Texas learned they had been freed from slavery.
- On June 19, 2021, President Biden signed a bill marking Juneteenth as a federal holiday.
- There are celebrations across the country on this important day. Learn more about its history, and about how it became a federal holiday.
For the last 158 years, Juneteenth has been a significant milestone in American culture. It marks the date — June 19, 1865 — when thousands of Black men and women in Texas learned they had been freed from slavery.
Since then, among people of many different races, the day has become known as a time to celebrate resilience and resistance. It had such a great impact that some people have called it “America’s second Independence Day.”
Still, many people are unfamiliar with the significance of Juneteenth — primarily because while it is celebrated in 47 states, it was never a federal holiday until 2021. On June 17, President Biden signed a bill marking the day as a national holiday.
What is the story of Juneteenth, and why has that story resonated with so many people over the last century and a half?
Facts about Juneteenth
Here are a few important facts about the history of this important holiday:
- During the height of the U.S. Civil War on Jan. 1, 1863, President Lincoln enacted the Emancipation Proclamation through an executive order. It declared Black people in the Confederate States free from enslavement.
- It is worth mentioning that President Lincoln was not the president of the Confederate States at the time of his proclamation; however, it motivated more than 200,000 formerly enslaved people to join the U.S. Army and fight for others still in bondage.
- On April 9, 1865, the Confederate States surrendered, marking the end of the four-year-long war.
- On June 19, 1865, U.S. Army General Gordon Granger visited Galveston, Texas, and read aloud General Order No. 3, which informed everyone about the end of the war and freedom for Black people.
- Delaware and Kentucky were neutral during the Civil War, and thus still enslaved people until the ratification of the 13th amendment of the U.S. Constitution on December 6, 1865, which abolished chattel slavery nationwide (except as a punishment for being convicted of a crime).
- There are other Emancipation (or Freedom) Days celebrated throughout the United States that are not well-known, including: Washington D.C., April 16; Florida, May 20; Georgia, last Saturday of May; Tennessee, August 8; and Mississippi, May 8.
The history of Juneteenth celebrations
In the early years, few non-Black Americans celebrated Juneteenth. In fact, some landowners resisted the holiday by forbidding people from using their property for celebrations. As a result, Black Americans often held their celebrations at churches or in rural areas, where they could turn the celebration into a day-long affair with horseback riding, fishing and other outdoor activities.
On Jan. 1, 1980, Juneteenth became an official state holiday in Texas. Over the next 30 years, other states followed by recognizing it as either a state holiday or a ceremonial observance. But there was still one important hurdle to cross — turning Juneteenth into a national holiday.
In 2016, 89-year-old former teacher and activist Opal Lee walked 1,400 miles from her home in Fort Worth, Texas, to Washington, D.C., to encourage legislators to turn Juneteenth into a national holiday. Two years later, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution recognizing the holiday, and in 2021, it became an official federal holiday.
How to celebrate Juneteenth
Now that Juneteenth is a national holiday, local organizations all over the United States have created annual events to celebrate. From festivals to movie nights to Black history exhibitions, there are plenty of ways to commemorate the ending of slavery in our country.
A commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion
Swedish's Office of Health, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (OHEDI) is working to ensure Swedish hospitals and clinics provide an inclusive environment for all patients, visitors and caregivers. This includes supporting Swedish care teams in completing trainings on cultural competence and understanding implicit bias.
OHEDI’s work is fueled by our mission – to improve the health and wellbeing of each person we serve – and establishes Swedish policies and programs that eliminate health care inequities; provide equitable access to high-quality health care; build a diverse workforce and more; support community partners and advance transgender health.
Learn more and find a doctor
If you have concerns about your health or it’s time for a check-up, it’s important to see a primary care provider. Whether you require an in-person visit or want to consult a doctor virtually, you have options. Swedish Virtual Care connects you face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your symptoms, provide instruction and follow up as needed. If you need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory.
Join our Patient and Family Advisory Council.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.