On June 19, 1865, enslaved African-Americans in Galveston, Texas, were told they were free. A century and a half later, people in cities and towns across the U.S. continue to celebrate the occasion.
Juneteenth, an annual holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States, has been celebrated by African-Americans since the late 1800s.
But in recent years, and particularly following nationwide protests over police brutality and the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and other Black Americans, there is a renewed interest in the day that celebrates freedom.
The celebration continues to resonate in new ways, given the sweeping changes and widespread protests across the U.S. over the last year and following a guilty verdict in the killing of Mr. Floyd.
Here’s a brief guide to what you should know about Juneteenth.
What is Juneteenth?
On June 19, 1865, about two months after the Confederate general Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, Va., Gordon Granger, a Union general, arrived in Galveston, Texas, to inform enslaved African-Americans of their freedom and that the Civil War had ended. General Granger’s announcement put into effect the Emancipation Proclamation, which had been issued more than two and a half years earlier on Jan. 1, 1863, by President Abraham Lincoln.
The holiday received its name by combining June and 19. The day is also sometimes called “Juneteenth Independence Day,” “Freedom Day” or “Emancipation Day.”
Why has Juneteenth become so important?
Following the killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man who died in the custody of the Minneapolis Police in May 2020, thousands of people around the United States poured onto the streets in protest. Mr. Floyd’s name, as well as the names of Ms. Taylor, Mr. Arbery, David McAtee and others, became a rallying cry for change across the country, effectively re-energizing the Black Lives Matter movement.
That change came in waves. In Minneapolis, officials banned the use of chokeholds and strangleholds by the police, and said officers must intervene and report any use of unauthorized force.
Democrats in Congress unveiled sweeping legislation targeting misconduct and racial discrimination by the police. The bill was the most expansive intervention into policing that lawmakers have proposed in recent memory.
In April, Derek Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer, was found guilty of two counts of murder in the death of Mr. Floyd.
Mark Anthony Neal, an African-American studies scholar at Duke University, said there are some comparisons between the end of the Civil War to the unrest that swept the country, adding that the moment felt like a “rupture.”
“The stakes are a little different,” Mr. Neal said.
“I think Juneteenth feels a little different now,” he said. “It’s an opportunity for folks to kind of catch their breath about what has been this incredible pace of change and shifting that we’ve seen over the last couple of weeks.”