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History of Juneteenth and its widespread recognition

Posted at 2:25 PM, Jun 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-19 20:25:02-04

TUCSON, Ariz. — Juneteenth is a day that commemorates the official end of slavery in the United States.

While 47 states recognize the observance of the calendar day, many companies across the country and some states are now recognizing Juneteenth as a paid holiday.

Juneteenth highlights June 19, 1865, the day slaves in Texas learned that the confederacy had fallen, the union army won the Civil War and that they were indeed free. But this was two years after the Emancipation Proclamation.

"It is significant because this is the day of emancipation for Black Americans. Because there is a common misconception that the emancipation proclamation ended slavery in 1863, which it did not,” said Tyina Steptoe, an associate history professor at the University of Arizona.

Steptoe said it took the end of the Civil War to officially end slavery in Texas, which is why the descendants of slaves celebrate Juneteenth as the official emancipation day.

"And also, throughout the Jim Crow era, in some places, black people weren't even allowed to celebrate the Fourth of July. And so Juneteenth really was the holiday celebrating independence that black people would observe yearly,” said Steptoe.

This year, Juneteenth is having a different experience due to the Black Lives Matter movement.

"I think that focus of Juneteenth this year is part of that activism of seeing still how far we have to do in the Untied States. And so this has all culminated this June around a Black American holiday. So I think this year we're seeing Juneteenth get so much more attention than it probably ever has. And from the corporate end as well as from the federal government, people are suddenly talking about Juneteenth,” said Steptoe.

Twitter, Nike, the NFL and more companies are now observing Juneteenth as a company paid holiday.

As Juneteenth is becoming more widespread, Steptoe said you can observe it by thinking of it in two ways. One, as a feasting celebration by supporting black-owned restaurants - going back to how the holiday is originally celebrated with black families. And two, as an educational opportunity to learn about Black American history.

"Whether it’s the Civil War, specifically, or looking more about the activism that's taking place right now. I think that that combination of celebration but also looking for more knowledge about the past and using the knowledge to really push ourselves forward as a society today is the spirit of Juneteenth,” said Steptoe.