Juneteenth: What to know about the historical celebration that's now a federal holiday (2024)

Three years after it was made a federal holiday, Juneteenth 2024 marks a day of celebration as well as education.

The federal holiday known as “Second Independence Day,” marks the day the last African American slaves were notified that they had been freed from their masters, the National Museum of African American History and Culture said.

Dr. Tim Goler, a professor of urban affairs and sociology courses and director of research for the Center for African American Public Policy at Norfolk State University, told USA TODAY that Juneteenth or "Freedom Day" is a day that shows the "beauty of our culture" that everyone should participate in.

The origins of Juneteenth date back to June 19, 1865 – more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation - when the Union Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, and announced the end of the Civil War and the emancipation of enslaved African Americans, Goler said.

“This delay and the enforcement of the emancipation in Texas was due to a lack of enforcement until this general arrived," Goler said. "Then Juneteenth thus became this kind of powerful symbol of freedom and the long struggle for civil rights."

The Juneteenth National Independence DayAct was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate in June 2021. The bill was signed by President Joe Biden on June 17, 2021, which officially made the day a federal holiday.

Here's what you need to know about Juneteenth.

Juneteenth: What to know about the historical celebration that's now a federal holiday (1)

An African American holiday:Predating Juneteenth was nearly lost to history. It's back.

Black History, Juneteenth becoming more cemented in fabric of US

Although Juneteenth is now becoming a part of the conversation regarding Black History, there was a time when Black History was not widely discussed within the educational system, especially for historians, said Dr. Alan Singer, a professor of teaching, learning and technology at Hofstra University who writes about the history of slavery and racism.

“I didn't learn it (until) I was an adult, really (in the) 1990s, when as a teacher, I started studying more, so I (could) incorporate it into my lessons,” he said. “I went to City College in the 1960s and they had first introduced a course called ‘American Negro History’ and that was the first time I had learned about any of these things. I took the course because I became a political activist while at City College and I needed to know more about the African American civil rights struggles.”

Singer also adds that he attended high school during the Civil Rights Movement and was never taught about Black History. To change that, he decided to educate himself more to properly teach his students.

“I just felt a heavy responsibility as a teacher to really present a much more accurate picture of the history of the United States,” he said.

Goler adds that Juneteenth has been recognized for years within the Black community and history. Now, the day has become more publicly known.

"In recent years, Juneteenth has gained a much wider recognition. It's only been since 2021 that it became that designated as a federal holiday," he said. "Many Black people and Black communities around the country have celebrated Juneteenth. It's just becoming much more wider and much more visible now."

Commercialization of Juneteenth

Since Juneteenth has been declared a federal holiday, many retailers have unveiled Juneteenth attire through clothing, footwear, hats and other merchandise.

"The question is, 'who benefits from the commercialization of Juneteenth?' I’d definitely like to see more African American (and) more Black businesses benefit," Goler said. "The trend of commercialization, we risk the overshadowing of the historical context, and the ongoing struggle for racial equality that Juneteenth represents."

Singer hopes that companies that are selling Juneteenth products are also advocating for more inclusivity.

“What I'm arguing is that what we need to do is to use a day like Juneteenth as a launching pad to build a more just society,” he said. “It should not just be about the past, it has to be about the future.”

Goler hopes that the holiday will bring everyone together but also educate them about this important day in Black History.

"I think as we observe Juneteenth, it's important to focus on the education, reflection, the community engagement aspect and really ensure that the day remains of a pungent reminder of our continued and enduring fight for freedom and justice," he said.

Ahjané Forbes is a reporter on the National Trending Team at USA TODAY. Ahjané covers breaking news, car recalls, crime, health, lottery and public policy stories. Email her ataforbes@gannett.com. Follow her onInstagram,ThreadsandX (Twitter).

Juneteenth: What to know about the historical celebration that's now a federal holiday (2024)
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