After President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law in 2021, this year marked the first time Juneteenth was celebrated as a federal holiday. It commemorates June 19th, 1865, when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, to enforce the emancipation of slaves in the area against defiant slaveholders — months after the Confederate army had surrendered.
In the years that followed, former enslaved people and their families began their own celebrations commemorating the event. Texas became the first state to designate Juneteenth as an official holiday in 1980.
“Juneteenth is actually generated from the people. It grows out of the soil. It’s truly black folks celebrating their emancipation on their terms.” – Hasan Kwame Jeffries, Ohio State University
Listen: Why Juneteenth endures as a celebration of the end of slavery.
Hasan Kwame Jeffries is a history professor at Ohio State University and host of the “Teaching Hard History” podcast. He says Juneteenth rose to prominence, in part, because Black Texans took it with them when they moved across the nation.
“I think it really does speak to this idea — and the U.S. is finally catching up, formally and officially — that marking emancipation is really important,” says Jeffries. “Juneteenth is actually generated from the people. It grows out of the soil. It’s truly black folks celebrating their emancipation on their terms.”