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What is Juneteenth?
01:13 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

Here is a look at Juneteenth, the oldest known US celebration of the end of slavery. On June 19, 1865, over two and a half years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, enslaved African Americans in Texas were told they were free.

Knowledge of the celebration spread as families relocated.

The anniversary is celebrated much like the Fourth of July, with parties, picnics and gatherings with family and friends.


Juneteenth is also referred to as Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, Jubilee Day and Liberation Day.

Juneteenth National Independence Day is the first federal holiday established since Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983 and is at least the 11th federal holiday recognized by the US federal government.

More than half of the states recognize Juneteenth as a paid state holiday, and all states have some recognition or observance, according to the Pew Research Center.

Former Texas state representative Al Edwards was known as the “father of Juneteenth.” Edwards sponsored the bill that made Juneteenth a state holiday in 1980.

Opal Lee is known as the “grandmother of Juneteenth.” The Texas activist worked for years to have Juneteenth recognized nationwide. She attended the presidential signing of the bill into law.

Quiz: How well do you know Emancipation Day?

By the Numbers

Before the Civil War, it was legal in 15 states to enslave people: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.

In 1860, there were almost 500,000 free African American people in the United States. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, about half were in the North and half were in the South.

Enslaved people in the United States were estimated at 3,953,760 in 1860, according to statistics provided by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

During the Civil War, almost 200,000 African American men served in the Union Army and Navy.

30.2 percent of the 1860 population of Texas was comprised of enslaved people, or “bondsmen.”

There were 47,030,856 Black or African American people (one race alone or in combination) in the United States in 2021, according to the most recent Census Bureau estimate.


April 12, 1861-April 9, 1865 - The Civil War.

June 19, 1862 - Slavery is abolished in the federal territories of the United States.

January 1, 1863 - President Abraham Lincoln issues the final Emancipation Proclamation, freeing only those enslaved in “rebellious” states, but the proclamation is not enforced and has little impact on slavery in some southern states, including Texas.

November 19, 1863 - The Gettysburg Address: At the dedication of a Pennsylvania cemetery of soldiers killed in battle, Lincoln delivers one of his most famous speeches. The final passage in the short, two-minute speech includes the phrase, “a new birth of freedom,” a reference to the abolition of slavery.

January 31, 1865 - Congress passes the 13th Amendment.

February 1, 1865 - Lincoln, in a symbolic gesture, signs the 13th Amendment a little more than two months before his death. His assassin, John Wilkes Booth, supported slavery.

June 19, 1865 - Major General Gordon Granger and Union Army troops arrive in Galveston, Texas. Supported by a military presence, Granger issues General Orders No. 3, officially notifying Texans that enslaved people are emancipated.

December 6, 1865 - The 13th Amendment is ratified and becomes part of the US Constitution, abolishing slavery of any kind, now or in the future. It is not immediately ratified by every state, including Texas.

June 19, 1866 - The first official Juneteenth celebration is held in Texas.

February 18, 1870 - Texas ratifies the 13th Amendment.

1872 - Emancipation Park is founded in Houston by a group of formerly enslaved African Americans. They begin what becomes an annual Juneteenth celebration, according to the Emancipation Park Conservancy.

June 19, 1968 - The Poor People’s March is held in Washington, DC. Originally planned by Martin Luther King Jr., the campaign, led by Ralph D. Abernathy after King’s assassination on April 4, gives Juneteenth new prominence.

January 1, 1980 - Texas becomes the first state to establish Juneteenth as a state holiday.

Every year we must remind successive generations that this event triggered a series of events that one by one defines the challenges and responsibilities of successive generations. That’s why we need this holiday.” – Al Edwards (D-Texas), sponsor of the state bill.

October 2013 - Emancipation Park breaks ground on a $33.5 million renovation project, which is completed June 2017.

2009-2012, 2014-2016 - Barack Obama, the nation’s first African American president, issues statements seven times during his presidency to mark Juneteenth.

2014 - A marker of commemoration is placed near the Osterman Building, former site of the Union Army’s Texas headquarters in Galveston, where Granger issued General Order No. 3.

February 25, 2021 - Senate and House lawmakers reintroduce the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act. A 2020 bill was blocked by Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson.

June 16, 2021 - The bill passes the House with a 415-14 vote after the Senate unanimously passes the legislation on June 15.

June 17, 2021 - President Joe Biden signs legislation into law establishing June 19 as Juneteenth National Independence Day, a US federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.