Friday, June 19, was Juneteenth, also known as Jubilee Day or Freedom Day, a holiday that began in 1866 as a way to celebrate the freeing of slaves of Texas, when Union army general Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston on June 19, 1865, to declare and enforce the freedom of Black slaves still being held in Texas, of which there were more than 250,000, officially ending all slavery in the Confederate States of America two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued by Abraham Lincoln.
While celebrations began in Texas, they spread throughout the South and major cities in the U.S. While states like Texas, Virginia, New York and Pennsylvania recognize it as a holiday for state employees, states like Hawaii, North Dakota and South Dakota don’t recognize it at all.
The holiday is typically celebrated with rodeos (due to its Texan roots), cookouts and barbecues, fishing, festivals and baseball, along with large meals, educational speakers and public readings of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Juneteenth has recently gained wider national attention following weeks of civil unrest over the death of George Floyd and associated racial injustices. Activists have been pushing to make it a national holiday and companies like JCPenney, Target, Ben & Jerry’s, the New York Times and others have said they will recognize Juneteenth as a holiday, giving employees paid time off or holiday pay.
Controversy surrounded President Donald Trump’s announcement that he would be holding a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma on Juneteenth. That he chose to hold the rally in Tulsa — the site of a 1921 massacre of Black citizens and the destruction of Greenwood District, a neighborhood concentrated with African-American businesses and known as Black Wall Street, by firebombing and looting perpetrated by a white mob — on Juneteenth felt like a conscious choice to many. Sherry Gamble Smith, president of Tulsa’s Black Wall Street Chamber of Commerce, said, “To choose the date, to come to Tulsa, is totally disrespectful and a slap in the face to even happen.”
In response, Trump moved the date of his rally to June 20, although he told the Wall Street Journal in an article published Thursday that nobody had ever heard of Juneteenth before his rally and, “I did something good: I made Juneteenth very famous.”
This year, cities around the United States including Pelican Rapids and Fargo held anti-racism protests and marches for Juneteenth. Governor Tim Walz also issued a proclamation recognizing June 19 as Juneteenth Freedom Day and that he’d like to see it become an official state holiday in the future, an act that would require a change in the law.