Juneteenth, a portmanteau of June 19, is a holiday that honors the last enslaved Black people in Texas learning they were free.
On June 19, 1865, federal troops marched on Galveston, Texas, to take control of the state. Even though the Civil War had been over for two months, slavery remained in Texas.
Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Texas and famously read General Orders No. 3, which stated, “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”
That day came two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863. Not all states immediately ended slavery when Lincoln signed the order during the Civil War.
While other dates — such as the Confederate Army’s surrender in the Civil War, the ratification of the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery, or the day Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation — could similarly be viewed as the “end” of slavery in the U.S., Juneteenth is the day most people associate with its conclusion.
Congress moved to establish Juneteenth as a federal holiday in June 2021, and the holiday went into effect immediately. The bill, signed into law by President Biden, designated the date as Juneteenth National Independence Day.
June 19 this year falls on a Sunday, so most federal employees will get Monday, June 20 off. Some private companies last year also made Juneteenth a paid holiday for employees.
Congress had not added a federal holiday since Martin Luther King Day in 1983.
Despite the U.S. recognizing Juneteenth as a federal holiday last year, many Americans still didn’t know the meaning of the observance. In a 2021 Gallup survey, 28% of U.S. adults said they knew “nothing at all” about Juneteenth.
Awareness of the date’s significance also broke along party lines. The survey found that 16% of Democrats knew “nothing at all” about Juneteenth, compared with 45% of Republicans.