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Juneteenth: What is it and how the stars are celebrating

How the likes of Al Roker and President Biden have celebrated the holiday

Bryony Gooch
US Writer
June 19, 2024
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While Juneteenth may have only become a federal holiday in 2021, African Americans have been celebrating Freedom Day for over a century and a half. 

But what exactly is the significance of June 19th - why is it a federal celebration, and how do you celebrate it?

Here's everything you need to know about Juneteenth.

What is Juneteenth?

Photo of handwritten record showing General Orders, Number 3, issued by United States Major General Gordon Granger, June 19, 1865. It reads "The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. 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. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere." The date of Granger's issuance of the order is now celebrated as Juneteenth. (Photo courtesy of National Archives/Getty Images)© Interim Archives
General Gordon Granger's declaration

The holiday marks the remembrance of the end of slavery, as the northern states defeated the slave-owning South in the Civil War. It was on June 19th 1865 that enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Texas were finally told they were free. 

President Abraham Lincoln had actually issued his Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1864, but African descendents were still enslaved for years after that. Texas was the final Confederate state to enforce the proclamation, with General Gordon Granger making the declaration which many see as the true end to slavery.

"Juneteenth", the portmanteau of June and the 19th, is what the historic date has been colloquially named.

Why is it a federal holiday?

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 17: (L-R)  Ninety-four-year-old activist and retired educator Opal Lee, known as the Grandmother of Juneteenth, speaks with U.S. President Joe Biden after he signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law in the East Room of the White House on June 17, 2021 in Washington, DC. The Juneteenth holiday marks the end of slavery in the United States and the Juneteenth National Independence Day will become the 12th legal federal holiday — the first new one since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was signed into law in 1983. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)© Drew Angerer
Joe Biden signs the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act

Although Juneteenth has long been celebrated among African American communities, it only became a federal holiday in 2021 when President Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law.

Before then, 45 states and Washington DC recognized it as a state holiday, but it wasn't recognized nationally.

What's open and closed:

Banks and post offices will be closed all day, as will any other government offices. However, you can expect major restaurants, groceries stores, and any major retail chains to remain open as normal.

How to celebrate:

An attendee adjusts his Juneteenth-themed hat during a neighborhood Juneteenth festival on June 17, 2023 in Washington, DC. Two years ago, President Joe Biden signed bipartisan legislation establishing Juneteenth as a federal holiday. Juneteenth commemorates the day on June 19, 1865 when a Union general read orders in Galveston, Texas stating all enslaved people in the state were free according to federal law.  (Photo by Nathan Howard/Getty Images)© Nathan Howard
Juneteenth celebrations

As it's a federal holiday, government offices are closed, and a number of businesses will also shut down for the day. But a number of communities organize parades, festivals, block parties, public readings, picnics and church services.

Food is at the heart of the festivities, as many people celebrate with a barbecue or cookout. It's also a great opportunity to shop at black-owned businesses, or eat at black owned restaurants.

Why is Juneteenth so important?

TOPSHOT - Demonstrators deploy a " Black Lives Matter" banner near the White House  during a demonstration against racism and police brutality, in Washington, DC on June 6, 2020. Demonstrations are being held across the US following the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, while being arrested in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Olivier DOULIERY / AFP) (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)© OLIVIER DOULIERY
Black Lives Matter banner in 2020

While slavery ended, racism didn't - Jim Crow laws were created post-emancipation that segregated black people from white society, limiting their civil rights. The deaths of Trayvon Martin, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and more at the hands of police have led to numerous anti-racism protests over the years - most notably the Black Lives Matter movement which started in 2013, and expanded to 40 chapters across the States by 2021.

What the stars are doing this Juneteenth

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 10: U.S. President Joe Biden (C), along with Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff (L) and Vice President Kamala Harris, attends a Juneteenth concert on the South Lawn of the White House on June 10, 2024 in Washington, DC. Biden In 2021 signed legislation establishing as a Federal holiday Juneteenth, which commemorates the ending of slavery in the United States.  (Photo by Kent Nishimura/Getty Images)© Kent Nishimura
President Biden attends Juneteenth concert

Already, President Biden celebrated the holiday with a concert on the White House South Lawn with the likes of Gladys Knight and Patti LaBelle in attendance. 

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 14: Leslie Odom Jr. attends the Premiere of "Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery" at Academy Museum of Motion Pictures on November 14, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)© Axelle/Bauer-Griffin
Leslie Odom Jr. talks Juneteenth

Leslie Odom Jr. said of the day: "It obviously reminds us of our liberation, our freedom, and also there’s a painful thing. It’s about people who were free and didn’t realize it. So, it’s just a reminder how free we are and how long we've been free", speaking to ExtraTV.

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Al Roker wished fans a happy Juneteenth on Instagram, reminding them to stay hydrated and check in on elderly neighbors.

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