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Juneteenth Observance – How Juneteenth was Different this Year

“Juneteenth” has gone by many names – whether you call it Emancipation Day, Freedom Day or the country’s second Independence Day, Juneteenth is one of the most important anniversaries in American history.

On June 19, 1865, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger, who had fought for the Union, led a force of soldiers to Galveston, Texas, to deliver a very important message: The war was finally over, the Union had won, and the enforcement of the end of slavery was soon to begin.

The announcement came long after President Abraham Lincoln had first signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1st, 1863, and two months after the effective conclusion of the Civil War. It wasn’t until on June 19, 1865 when the last enslaved people in the South were freed by the Union army.

That was 156 years ago. This year, Americans across the country celebrated Juneteenth as a federal holiday for the first time.

It is the first federal holiday to be created by Congress since 1983, when lawmakers designated the third Monday in January as Martin Luther King Jr. Day, in honor of the slain civil-rights leader. After years of campaigning for the holiday to be recognized, President Biden signed bipartisan legislation making Juneteenth a federal holiday on June 17, 2021. The bill passed the Senate unanimously and was approved 415-14 in the House. Congressional leaders from both parties said establishing the holiday was an important gesture in recognizing those who suffered under American slavery and as an act of racial reconciliation, and the new federal holiday took effect immediately. Because the first observance fell on Saturday, most federal employees were given off Friday, June 18.

Although Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States, it was celebrated long before it became a federal holiday. Amidst a pandemic that has disproportionately affected people of color, and a protest movement against police brutality and structural racism toward black Americans, this year it was cause for wide celebration across the country. From barbecues and cookouts, sipping on red drinks, parades, public murals to shopping only at black-owned businesses to simply spending time with friends and family at home – this year was truly a reason to celebrate. Here’s a look at how Juneteenth was celebrated in 2021, vs 100 years ago:

June 19th, 100 Years Ago

Civil War reenactors at a Juneteenth celebration at Eastwoods Park, Texas, in 1900

Source: Austin History Center

Emancipation Day Celebration band, June 19, 1900

Source: Wikimedia Commons

A group of well-dressed older adults on Juneteenth

A group of older adults on Juneteenth. Photograph by Grace Murray Stephenson of celebrations in Eastwoods Park, Austin, 1900.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

A woman stands before a decorated carriage. Photograph by George McCuistion of Juneteenth celebrations in Corpus Christi, Texas, 1913.

Source: Southern Methodist University Libraries

A woman stands before a decorated carriage during a Juneteenth celebration in Texas
People gathered before a stage for Juneteenth celebrations in Corpus Christi, Texas, 1913

People gathered before a stage for Juneteenth celebrations in Corpus Christi, Texas, 1913

Source: Southern Methodist University Libraries

Juneteenth celebrations in Richmond, Virginia, circa 1905

Source: Detroit Publishing Company photograph collection, Library of Congress

Juneteenth celebrations in Richmond, Virginia, circa 1905
Old Photo Of Horse and Buggy Carriage

Juneteenth celebrations in Corpus Christi, Texas, 1913

Source: Southern Methodist University Libraries, photograph by George McCuistion

June 19th, Today

People celebrate last year’s Juneteenth by riding horses through Washington Park in Chicago

People celebrate last year’s Juneteenth by riding horses through Washington Park in Chicago. This year, it is a federal holiday.

Source: Natasha Moustache/Getty Images

People watch the Juneteenth Parade in historic Galveston, Texas on Saturday — where 156 years ago news reached the city that slavery had been abolished.

Source: Go Nakamura/Getty Images

Activists unveil a new memorial honoring George Floyd in Flatbush Junction on Saturday morning. Terrance Floyd, center, the brother of George Floyd, attended and spoke at the event.

Source: David Dee Delgado/Getty Images

Acting Mayor Kim Janey, right, takes a photo as Bostonians gather together on Friday in Nubian Square. Janey is the first woman and first Black person to serve as mayor of Boston.

Source: Elise Amendola/AP
Mayor Kim Janey takes a selfie with several Bostonians during a Juneteenth celebration

A father and son take a selfie while visiting Greenwood’s Black Wall Street Memorial on Saturday.

Source: Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images


Food vendors gather together on Friday in Atlanta’s Castleberry Hill to honor Juneteenth. The event, named, “Celebration of Truth,” was hosted by The Black News Network.

Source: Paras Griffin/Getty Images for Black News Chan

Juneteenth 2021
Juneteenth 2021

A woman displays an embroidered “1865” in her hair while attending the launch of a new art project at Louisville’s Roots 101 Museum on Saturday. The project, titled “On the Banks of Freedom,” explores Louisville’s participation in slavery and commemorates the lives of enslaved people whose names were not recorded.

Source: Jon Cherry/Getty Images

The significance of declaring Juneteenth a federal holiday is just one step in the journey towards equality. To honor the holiday, we hope all Americans were able to take part in the opportunity to reflect and learn. Gaining a greater understanding of our past and the struggles of Black Americans helps to unify us all and create a more prosperous and joyful future.

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