Here’s How Americans Are Celebrating Juneteenth, the Most Important Holiday You’ve Never Heard Of

juneteenth celebration

People attend Juneteenth celebrations June 19 in Richmond, California. | David Paul Morris/Getty Images

You know Independence Day — but there’s a whole other day of freedom to commemorate in American history that you may not know about. Juneteenth, celebrated on June 19, memorializes the end of slavery in the U.S. And now, it’s more important than ever to acknowledge this day.

If you’re unfamiliar with Juneteenth, you’ve certainly heard of Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. History explains President Lincoln issued the proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, and it stated that every slave in the Southern rebellion states “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” This didn’t actually end up freeing any slaves — but it was a good start.

The official Juneteenth website explains the big turnaround for slaves occurred when Major General Gordon Granger landed in Galveston, Texas, with the Union Soldiers on June 19, 1865. Unfortunately for Texans, Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had little impact when it went into effect two and a half years earlier. But with General Granger’s troops, they could overcome the resistance and free the enslaved.

Why the 2.5-year hold-up when it came to freeing the slaves?

There are many theories as to why it took so long for the slaves in Texas to be freed once the Emancipation Proclamation was in place for a number of years. The Juneteenth website says there’s one story claiming there was a messenger sent to Texas to deliver the news of freedom — but he was murdered on the way down. Another story claims the news was purposely withheld so slavers could keep their slaves working for as long as possible. There was also talk that the troops waited for one last cotton harvest to finish before they announced freedom to all.

How ‘Juneteenth’ came to be

The Juneteenth website explains many newly-freed folks didn’t know where to go with their newfound freedom, but many chose north. Alternatively, others attempted to reach family and friends in neighboring Southern states. As the newly freed settled into this independent way of life, they decided to commemorate the day they were freed in June by coining it “Juneteenth.” They utilized this day to pray, gather together with family, and celebrate the future.

Head to Texas for a traditional Juneteenth celebration

Texas now recognizes Juneteenth as an official state holiday, and it’s seen a resurgence in celebration over the years. The New York Times notes backyard picnics are common, but you can also take part in more formal ceremonies to honor those who were lost during slavery. As Paul Herring, an organizer of Juneteenth celebrations in Flint, Michigan, said, “this is our day to be happy.”

If you find yourself in Texas, you have to try “red water soda” — otherwise known as strawberry soda, which is a Juneteenth tradition. And it’s easy to find a local barbecue pit with tons of meats to share on this day, too.

Texas isn’t the only state to celebrate

It might be majorly popular in Texas, but the rest of the U.S. is really catching on to Juneteenth’s festivities, too. Here’s how other states are celebrating.

Is Juneteenth America’s ‘real’ Independence Day?

It might be controversial to think about, but many consider Juneteenth to be the Independence Day we really need to remember. Forbes reminds us white America has been free for 242 years, but “black America is celebrating only 153 years of freedom from actually being captive, bought and sold by their fellow Americans, and not even 60 years of freedom from legalized segregation.”

It wasn’t long ago when slavery was still fully in place, and black Americans still face injustice daily. For that reason, get out, jam to some Motown, and find a local barbecue to celebrate the summer holiday.

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