It’s Juneteenth! But…what is it?

In the wake of Black Lives Matter demonstrations across the world, there has been increasing focus on the recognition of Juneteenth.

Demonstrators protesting the killing of George Floyd by police on Monday, March 25.
(Photo: BET)

In the wake of the death of George Floyd, an unarmed African-American, at the hands of a police officer about a month ago, more individuals and companies have made efforts to address racial inequalities and issues of racism.

One such move by corporations, including Twitter, Nike, Uber and New York Times, was to make today a paid holiday or day off.

“Juneteenth today, celebrates African American freedom and achievement, while encouraging continuous self-development and respect for all cultures.”

– juneteenth.com

Juneteenth marks the end of slavery in the United States and commemorates the date when enslaved African-Americans in Galveston, Texas were told they were free in 1865.

The declaration was made by Union General Gordon Granger who informed the enslaved African-Americans of their freedom some two years after President Abraham Lincoln announced it in the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863.

However, the proclamation had little impact on Texas because there were few Union troops to enforce the order, according to Juneteenth.com.

The site says there have been several attempts to explain the two and a half year delay, with one saying a messenger charged to deliver the news was murdered en route to Texas.

Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the end of slavery. Today, while not a national holiday, most American states have moved to recognise Juneteenth as a holiday. It is also a celebration of the journey of black Americans and an acknowledgement of their many achievements.

Celebrations for the holiday often include sports, barbecues and other large gatherings.

The day has taken on more serious tones in recent times, particularly this year in light of the deaths of Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.

“Juneteenth today, celebrates African American freedom and achievement, while encouraging continuous self-development and respect for all cultures. As it takes on a more national, symbolic and even global perspective, the events of 1865 in Texas are not forgotten, for all of the roots tie back to this fertile soil from which a national day of pride is growing,” according to juneteenth.com.