9 Things People Don’t Know About Juneteenth


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Juneteenth, a blend of “June” and “Nineteenth,” is a 159-year-old holiday that celebrates the liberation of the last group of enslaved African Americans in the U.S. It became widespread in the early 20th century and gained national recognition during the Civil Rights Movement.

To mark the holiday, here are nine Juneteenth facts that you probably didn’t know. 

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Slaves Has Been Freed Long Before But Didn’t Know It

President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves on Jan. 1, 1863, but the news reached the slaves much later for various reasons. At the time, the Civil War was raging.

On June 19, 1865, 2½ years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued and two months after the Civil War was formally over, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger of the Union Army and 2,000 soldiers landed in Galveston, Texas, to announce and enforce the liberation of the state’s some 250,000 slaves.

Some theories say an original messenger was murdered. Slave owners had also suppressed the news of the emancipation.

According to Lone Star Pasts: Memory and History in Texas, one  former slave excitedly said: “The end of the war, it came just like that — like you snap your fingers….Hallelujah broke out … Soldiers, all of a sudden, were everywhere — coming in bunches, crossing, walking and riding. Everyone was singing. We were all walking on golden clouds … .Everybody went wild … We were free. Just like that we were free.” 

So, on June 19, 1866, freed slaves in Texas celebrated their liberation with church meetings and prayer services. 

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Ironically, the Freed People Were Urged to Stay With Their Former Owners

Granger urged freed slaves in the General Order No. 3 statement to remain with their former owners but to work for wages instead.

The abrupt transition from slavery would have disrupted the economy. Encouraging them to stay ensured agricultural productivity remained stable.

Social order was also another consideration. It was felt that such a huge number of former slaves leaving their former owners at once would have erupted in chaos. 

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There Were Few Places to Hold Early Celebrations

The first years after the emancipation proved difficult because:

  • Segregation laws were taking root fast and black people were not designated any public parks.

  • Black people had limited finances and couldn’t own or rent large venues for their celebrations.

  • Local laws also prohibited holding large gatherings.

Blacks relied on churches, wooded groves, or sympathetic whites who gave them space for celebration. 

In 1872, a group of African Americans in Houston raised $800 and purchased 10 acres of land, known today as Emancipation Park. 

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Red Food and Drinks During Juneteenth Have a Significance

The red strawberry soda you hold in your hand during Juneteenth celebrations has a cultural significance.

Red drinks became popular due to the cultural roots of the enslaved communities. Most slaves were from West and Central Africa, and their beverages consisted of red drinks made from hibiscus and kola nuts.

The color also symbolized life, vitality, and spirituality in their culture.

Nowadays, these red-colored drinks and food are still part of the celebration, with people consuming red cake, strawberry soda, and other treats. 

With its Texas roots, food plays a large part in the celebrations with barbecue and staples like cornbread remaining ever popular.

Now, celebrations also include parades, festivals, street parties, and church services. 

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Juneteenth Celebrations Waned for Years

Juneteenth celebrations cooled off during the 1940s. World War II  also played a part in overshadowing Juneteenth. Not that the people didn’t want to continue celebrating, but several factors had an effect. During the Great Migration, many African Americans moved to urban areas for better economic opportunities, which weakened their ties and dampened the celebrations. 

Celebrations started to resurface in the 1950s and ’60s amid the growing Civil Rights Movement and gained strength in the 1970s and 1980s due to a cultural revival that focused on black pride.

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The Juneteenth Flag Carries Symbolism

The flag was created by Ben Haith in 1997 and illustrated by Lisa Jeanne Graf. It consists of a star with an outline and an arc running from one end to the other. The words June 19, 1865 are printed on the far end.

The star represents Texas, where the proclamation was made, while the outline symbolizes a nova or new star.

The arc symbolizes a horizon, a new dawn, or a fresh beginning, while red, blue, and white represent the American flag.

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Texas Recognized Juneteenth in 1980

The Lone Star State officially recognized June 19 as a state holiday in 1980 when Texas House Bill 1016 was passed during the 66th Legislature’s Regular Session. Since then, Juneteenth has been celebrated with parades, picnics, and festivals around Texas.

Gradually, the celebrations spread to neighboring states like Oklahoma and Louisiana. 

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Juneteenth Is Now a Federal Holiday

Juneteenth is one of the 11 federal holidays in the U.S. On June 17, 2021, President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, proclaiming it a federal holiday. 

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Juneteenth Has Other Names

Though Juneteenth is the most recognized name, this historic day has also been known as Emancipation Day, Liberation Day, and Freedom Day. 

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