The History Behind Juneteenth and Why We Honor This Day

Published: June 16, 2023 by Emily Garman, Gary Stockton

Juneteenth commemorates a momentous day in American history, and yet some Americans are unfamiliar with it, and how it is celebrated. So members of our Black Professionals Employee Resource Group (ERG) came together to tell the dramatic and important story of how Juneteenth came to be, and how it is typically celebrated now that it is a new Federal holiday. Juneteenth is also a day that everyone at Experian will be celebrating National Independence Day.

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Juneteenth Background

Juneteenth is an annual holiday celebrated on June 19th, commemorating the legal end of slavery in the United States. It has been celebrated for more than 150 years. It all began on June 19th, 1865, when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, with news that the Civil War was over, and that enslaved people were to be freed.

Even though the Emancipation Proclamation had been issued more than two years earlier, it had little effect at the time of signing, because news of the order had not reached the enslaved population of Texas.

The first major Juneteenth Celebration was held in Austin, Texas, in 1866. By 1872 the celebration had been added to a calendar of public events.
In that year, black leaders in Texas purchased 10 acres of land to celebrate Juneteenth. Today, that land is Emancipation Park in Houston.

Juneteenth was informally celebrated up until 1980, when Texas became the first state to proclaim Emancipation Day as an official state holiday. Over the years, Juneteenth has been celebrated by black Americans all over the country in many different ways. Juneteenth celebrations often include lectures and exhibitions on African-American culture, with special efforts to instill a sense of heritage and pride in black youth. Celebrations are often accompanied by voter registration efforts, the performing of plays, and retelling stories. The holiday is also a celebration of soul food, barbecue and other food with African-American influences.

On June 17th, 2021 President Joe Biden signed legislation that established June 19th as Juneteenth National Independence Day. He said that it would go down as one of the greatest honors of his presidency.

Ultimately, Juneteenth is much more than a holiday. It is a day for black Americans to celebrate freedom, culture and heritage. And for everyone to recognize and commemorate this pivotal moment in American history.

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