Commemorating the events of June 19, 1865, Juneteenth, recognizes and celebrates freedom and the day it finally arrived. 

The holiday itself remembers when word of the Emancipation Proclamation was delivered to the people of Galveston, Texas via federal troops more than two-and-a-half years after the declaration was originally signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln, marking the end of enslavement in the entirety of the United States of America for the first time in our country’s history.  

In the aftermath of the Civil War slaves were declared free under the 1862 Emancipation Proclamation, but despite the new law and Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s surrender slavery went largely unaffected in Texas as enslavers from across the Confederacy fled to the Lone Star State. 

The arrival of General Granger in the late spring of 1865 brought with a declaration, “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free,” effectively freeing some 250,000 enslaved African-Americans in the state of Texas. 

Since 1866 celebrations and festivities honoring the day have been held, beginning in cities around Texas before eventually spreading throughout the whole of America. The jubilees often feature music, barbecues, prayer and gatherings, and as Black people moved out of Texas they carried with them the traditions, spreading far and wide across the country. 

Today, 47 states, including Utah, recognize the day as an official state holiday. Yet despite exhaustive efforts in the United States Congress it is not currently a federally-recognized holiday. In 2018 it was unanimously passed by the Senate, but a simple resolution from the House of Representatives prevented it from seeing the President’s desk, keeping it from becoming law.  

Juneteenth represents Independence Day for Black people and serves as a reminder of the fight for equality, freedom and justice that continues today.  

Nearly five years ago, Utah legislators passed HB338, officially recognizing the third Saturday in the month of June as Juneteenth Freedom Day, an annual state commemorative holiday, signed into law by Governor Gary Herbert.

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