In 2021, President Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, which established an official holiday to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States. The act became law, and the holiday was celebrated two days later. As the United States prepares to celebrate its third official Juneteenth holiday, here is an in-depth look at what the day is all about.

Origins of Juneteenth National Independence Day

The origins of Juneteenth date back to June 19, 1865. Months after Confederate forces surrendered in the American Civil War, enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Texas were finally told they were free. Union soldiers arrived in Galveston and explained that slavery had been abolished and the war was over. This liberation actually took place more than two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Act, which freed enslaved people throughout the country. Juneteenth began as a regional celebration that was observed locally each year before becoming a state holiday in Texas in 1980. Juneteenth was subsequently recognized as a holiday in a number of other states before President Biden officially made the day a federal holiday in 2021.

Juneteenth traditions

Due to federal law, federal businesses are closed for Juneteenth. Private businesses may opt to close or remain open. Some may issue a floating holiday to those who would like to observe Juneteenth. Celebrations vary across the country. Some states host parades, and families and friends may gather to play games and enjoy food and other fun. Public readings or church services relevant to the holiday also may be part of Juneteenth celebrations.

Juneteenth food traditions

Juneteenth has its own traditions, including some involving food. For example, many people enjoy a dish known as the Marcus Garvey salad. Marcus Garvey was a Black activist who sought to unify and connect people of African descent worldwide. The dish is made with red, green and black beans to symbolize the Pan-African flag. Additional Juneteenth foods are red, which is no accident. Before slavery was abolished, many slaves ate foods that were white, green, or brown. Eating brightly colored red foods was a rarity and a cause for excitement. The color red also was associated with the cultures of people who used to be enslaved. Red beverages, sauce-covered barbecue, red velvet cake, and many other red foods and beverages are now served on Juneteenth.

Juneteenth is now celebrated across the United States and can serve as a catalyst for discussions about American history. Here in Buffalo, several celebrations are planned in celebration of Juneteenth, including Sankofa Days, a Swahili term in support of looking back upon the wisdom of our ancestors. Sankofa Days was created to engage the community in cultural arts, skills, and science. This year’s Buffalo Juneteenth 48th Consecutive Festival takes place on June 17 and 18, 2023.
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