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What Is Juneteenth? The History Of Freedom Day On June 19th

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What Is Juneteenth? The History Of Freedom Day

Jack Dorsey announced this week that he would be giving his employees an official company holiday for Juneteenth. In a tweet — naturally — the controversial CEO told the world that he would give his employees the day off to commemorate the day in 1965 that Union officials told enslaved people in Texas that they had been freed and the Civil War was over. 

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Since then, June 19 has been the longest nationally celebrated commemoration of the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States. It isn't a national holiday but 47 states recognize it and more recently, companies have started taking notice of it as well. 

This year, Juneteenth takes on a special importance as the country engaged in a long-delayed reckoning about race and equality. After weeks of Black Lives Matter demonstrations, many leaders are finally ready to sit down and have serious conversations about reform. 

What is Juneteenth, Freedom Day on June 19th?

What is Juneteenth?

On June 19, 1865, General Gordon Granger of the Union Army landed at Galveston, TX. When he arrived, he realized that the people there didn't know the Civil war had ended. Moreover, the enslaved people in Texas didn't know that they were legally free. "In accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free," Granger read to the crowd gathered before him that day. "This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.”

In the years that followed, people began celebrating the day as Juneteenth, though it has other names including Freedom Day, or Jubilee Day.

Wait, the Emancipation Proclamation took effect in 1863. Why didn't Texans know about it?

It's true that President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in September 1865 and it took effect on January 1, 1863. But Lincoln didn't have the modern luxury of describing his every move on Twitter. Mass communications weren't invented yet and, in a country wracked by war, getting messengers across long distances was a tricky business. One of the possible reasons behind Texas not knowing the status of enslaved people until 1865 is that the messenger sent to spread the word was killed along the way

Another theory is that the powers that be in Texas willfully withheld the information in order to keep using slave labor.

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What happened after the Junteenth announcement?

Once Texans knew they were no longer enslaved, many of them packed up and left. Some went in search of family members in other states. Others wanted to go North and try to start a new life there. Others did choose to stay and work as paid employees. 

As we all know, however, the Reconstruction era following the Civil War was hazardous for Black people and simply being freed was no guarantee of success or safety. 

How is Juneteenth celebrated?

There's no complicated formula for recognizing the day when all Americans learned that they were free citizens. Much like the 4th of July, celebrations include festivals and parades, musical performances, storytelling, picnics, barbecues. 

This year, Juneteenth celebrations will have to be a lot smaller, due to coronavirus restrictions. In many places, public gatherings are still limited. However, there is nothing stopping anyone from spending June 19 recognizing the moment that all Americans were finally freed from enslavement. 

There are lots of ways to recognize Juneteenth.

Is Juneteenth an official holiday?

It isn't a national holiday at this time. However, 47 states recognize Juneteenth as a day of celebration. Texas was the first to officially make it a state holiday in 1980. Since then, every state except Hawaii, South Dakota, and North Dakota. However, it's not a day when businesses typically close like Memorial Day or Presidents Day. 

There have been attempts to get Juneteenth recognized federally. The Senate passed a resolution about it in 2019. However, the House has failed to follow up on that. 

Some companies are starting to change that, however.

Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter and Square publically announced that he is going to give his employees the day off the Juneteenth, beginning this year. "Both Twitter and Square are making #Juneteenth (June 19th) a company holiday in the US, forevermore. A day for celebration, education, and connection," he tweeted. In a follow-up, he acknowledged that his non-U.S. employees would be getting similar benefits, saying "Countries and regions around the world have their own days to celebrate emancipation, and we will do the work to make those dates company holidays everywhere we are present."

Twitter will give employees the day off for Juneteenth. 

Vox, a media outlet, announced it would be doing the same as well as adding a fellowship[ programs for Black journalists. "Vox Media will observe Juneteenth as a company holiday and is launching a fellowship program focused on HBCUs and members of NABJ," reporter Ben Mullin tweeted

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Rebekah Kuschmider has been writing about celebrities, pop culture, entertainment, and politics since 2010. She is the creator of the blog FeminXer and she is a cohost of the weekly podcast The More Perfect Union.