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Social Issues
It’s Juneteenth, A Celebration Of The End Of Slavery In The U.S.
June 19, 2013
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Ennis Williams, Board President of the Old Central Cultural Centre, reads the Emancipation Proclamation on June 18, 2011 in Galveston, Texas (Photo: AP/Kevin M. Cox)

Independence Day, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, Labour Day: they're all pretty well known U.S. holidays, even north of the border. But one historic date hasn't gotten as much attention, and it's an important one.

Today is Juneteenth, a celebration of a landmark in American history: on June 19, 1865, slaves in Texas learned they were free.

The 19th has since become a day to commemorate the end of slavery in the U.S. - African-Americans have celebrated the anniversary since 1866 (the first known use of the name Juneteenth - a combination of "June" and "nineteenth" - was in 1903).

A little history of the day:

Before the Civil War, slavery was part of the Constitution of the United States. The document made slaves less than people, literally: the Constitution stated that a slave counted as only three-fifths of a person for the purposes of congressional representation.

President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, an order that proclaimed all those enslaved in Confederate territory to be forever free. But the Proclamation didn't have an immediate effect on the lives of many slaves.

A Juneteenth parade in Austin, Texas, June 18, 2011 (Photo: AP/Rodolfo Gonzalez)

The state of Texas was resistant to the Proclamation, and it wasn't until two and a half years later, on the 18th and 19th of June, 1865, that the slaves of Galveston, Texas were told about the President's order by Union General Gordon Granger.

Former slaves took to the streets to celebrate, and in many parts of Texas, freed people pooled their money to buy land commemorating the end of slavery, including Houston's Emancipation Park, Booker T. Washington Park in Mexia, and Emancipation Park in Austin.

In the decades since, the day has been celebrated by African Americans in many parts of the U.S., and in 1980, Texas made Juneteenth an official state holiday. Celebrations include public readings of the Emancipation Proclamation, performances of traditional songs, and festivities like street fairs, parades, rodeos, cookouts and park parties.

Four-year-old Isaiah Yancey of White Plains N.Y. during Juneteenth celebrations on June 8, 2013 (Photo: AP/Tania Savayan)

The holiday has spread to 41 other states, and celebrations also take place in other countries.

To find out more about the day and its significance, check out

On The State, Henry Louis Gates Jr. writes about the actual circumstances around that day in 1865. He points out that "it wasn't exactly instant magic for most of the Lone Star State's 250,000 slaves" - many plantation owners held back the news of the slaves' emancipation until after the harvest, and in Galveston City, the mayor forced the freed people back to work.

And for some more context, CNN has a rundown of the numbers around Juneteenth.


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