This is what Juneteenth is all about

CBC Kids News • Published 2020-06-19 13:59

Annual event has taken on new meaning in 2020

What is Juneteenth?

“It’s a Black holiday,” is how the musician Lizzo framed it in her TikTok explainer posted on June 6.

By the time the actual day — June 19 — rolled around, her TikTok had more than 200,000 views.

It seems there’s an appetite to know more about the event this year, even though it was first celebrated 155 years ago as a way to mark the end of slavery in the U.S.

There has been a surge of interest in Black rights following the death of an unarmed Black man named George Floyd, who died after a police officer kneeled on his neck during an arrest in May.

TikTok by Lizzo says What we doin for Juneteenth?

Lizzo, who grew up in Houston, Texas, posted a TikTok a couple weeks ago explaining what Juneteenth is all about. (@lizzo/TikTok)

The basics

On June 19, 1865, Black people in Texas got word that slavery was officially ending in the U.S.

They were the last to hear the news — people in every other state had already been told.

This was before the internet, remember. Way before.

So, around 250,000 newly-freed slaves in that state decided to celebrate.

The party became an annual event and it spread to other states as the years went by.

Black woman holds her arms out with eyes closed in a crowd.

People pray together during a 2020 Juneteenth event in Atlanta, Georgia. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

An official holiday

Today, Juneteenth is celebrated across America with beauty pageants, barbecues and parties.

The day is also sometimes called Emancipation Day, Jubilee Day, Freedom Day or Black Independence Day.

Although it isn’t considered a national holiday, Juneteenth was declared an official holiday in Texas in 1980 and other states soon followed.

Blue and red flag with star in the middle.

The Juneteenth flag was unveiled in 1997. The design is meant to represent a new star, or new dawn on the horizon, with a nod to the U.S. and Texas flags. (Nati Harnik/The Associated Press)

New meaning in 2020

This week, Juneteenth was declared a paid holiday for state employees in New York.

Major companies and organizations like Nike, Twitter, Square, Tesla, Lyft and the NFL also announced they were giving their U.S. employees a paid day off.

Crowd of people wearing elaborate parade outfits.

The Toronto Caribbean Carnival — also known as Caribana — has become the largest Caribbean festival in North America. (Cole Burston/The Canadian Press)

Do Canadians celebrate?

Juneteenth isn’t officially celebrated in Canada.

Slavery ended in Canada on Aug. 1, 1834, so our version would have to be called something different, anyways.

Hmm. August plus first. Maybe Augurst?

That said, some have pointed to Canada's annual Caribbean festivals as events that reflect the struggle for Black slaves to regain their freedom in that part of the world.

They include the Toronto Caribbean Carnival, BC’s Caribbean Days Festival, Edmonton’s Cariwest and Carifest Calgary.


With files from Stephanie Hogan/CBC News, Tamara Baluja/CBC News

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story said Black people in Texas got word that slavery was officially ending in the U.S. on June 19, 1895. The correct year is 1865.

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