A few facts about the national holiday commemorating the abolition of slavery and the struggle for Black freedom

1. It’s a national holiday in the US

President Joe Biden signs a law making Juneteenth an official national holiday, June 17, 2021.

On Thursday, June 17, 2021, President Joe Biden signed a law declaring Juneteenth (officially Juneteenth National Independence Day) a national holiday in the United States – making the very next day an unexpected day off work for federal workers. The holiday has similar roots to Emancipation Day holidays in many British former colonies, but was declared a national holiday much later. It’s the eleventh holiday to be recognized by the federal government.

2. It symbolizes the long path to freedom

A celebration of Emancipation Day in Richmond, Virginia, c. 1905. Image courtesy the Library of Congress

Slavery of Black Americans – and the view of Black Americans as non-citizens – had existed in the Americas since well before the founding the United States. When Major General Gordon Granger of the Union Army read an order of emancipation in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, the Emancipation Proclamation was already more than two years old. And in 1865, Black Americans still had roughly a century to wait before basic protections were afforded them in the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act in the 1960s. Even today, books like The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander and documentaries like 13th by Ava DuVernay make us rethink the nature of emancipation.

>>Learn more about the history of Juneteenth from Julie Saville, an emeritus professor of history at the University of Chicago.

3. It was first known as “Jubilee Day”

One year after the proclamation was read on June 19, 1865, the first “Jubilee Day” was held to commemorate the day. Texas first officially recognized Juneteenth more than a hundred and ten years later, in 1980.

After Texas officially recognized the holiday in 1980, it was more than 10 years before a second state to recognize it.

Illinois first officially recognized Juneteenth National Freedom Day in 2003 “to commemorate the abolition of slavery throughout the United States and its territories in 1865.” The 2003 law urged the people of Illinois “to reflect on the suffering endured by early African-Americans and to celebrate the unique freedom and equality enjoyed by all State citizens today.”

4. It’s the longest-running African American holiday

Having been celebrated since 1866, it’s considered the longest-running African American holiday, and even a second Independence Day. A resurgence in the 1970s increased its prominence and infused it with a broader emphasis on Black arts and emancipation narratives.

>>>Learn more of the history at Juneteenth.com.

5. UChicago students can attend an event with Angela Davis to commemorate Juneteenth

Angela Davis at Oregon State University. Image courtesy Oregon State University.

Through her activism and scholarship over many decades, Angela Davis has been deeply involved in movements for social justice around the world. Her work as an educator – both at the university level and in the larger public sphere – has always emphasized the importance of building communities of struggle for economic, racial, and gender justice. Her event with the UChicago community will take place on June 19 from 4-5pm.

>>>Register here

>>>Learn about other events organized by the UChicago community.