Celebrated on June 19, Juneteenth commemorates the day when word about the abolition of slavery finally reached Texas in 1865.
Since then, Juneteenth has been a day of celebration for many African Americans, a de facto second Independence Day commemorating the end of slavery and a first step toward inclusion in the greater American dream. It’s a bittersweet holiday, "a time of celebration, but also a time of reflection, healing, and hopefully a time for the country to come together and deal with its slave legacy," says the Rev. Ronald V. Meyers, chairman of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation. Meyers has worked for almost 15 years to get Juneteenth recognized by state legislatures. Currently, a little more than half of U.S. states acknowledge Juneteenth in some form or another, usually on the third Saturday of June. Only one, however, actually celebrates it as a legal state holiday: Texas. Juneteenth celebrations began there in the years following General Gordon Granger’s 1865 proclamation in Galveston and continued for decades. The tradition spread to bordering Southern states, such as Arkansas and Louisiana, as migrating African Americans fanned out from Texas. It reached as far as California — where San Francisco has held one of the nation’s largest Juneteenth celebrations for the last five-plus decades — and Minnesota, where Minneapolis boasts a large festival.