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WASHINGTON (AP) — A holiday that is spreading across the U.S. and beyond, Juneteenth is considered the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States.

It was originally celebrated on June 19, the day that Union soldiers in 1865 told enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Texas, that the Civil War had ended and they were free.

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Celebrations include parades, concerts, and readings of the Emancipation Proclamation. This year, Juneteenth will also feature the first congressional hearing in more than a decade on reparations for slavery.

Here’s a look at the holiday and its history:

BEGINNINGS

The celebration started with the freed slaves of Galveston, Texas. Although the Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves in the South in 1863, it could not be enforced in many places until after the end of the Civil War in 1865.

Laura Smalley, who was freed from a plantation near Bellville, Texas, remembered in a 1941 interview that her former master had gone to fight in the Civil War and came home without telling his slaves what had happened.

“Old master didn’t tell, you know, they was free,” Smalley said . “I think now they say they worked them, six months after that. Six months. And turn them loose on the 19th of June. That’s why, you know, we celebrate that day.”

It was June 19, 1865 when Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger and his Union troops arrived at Galveston with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free.

Granger delivered General Order No. 3, which said: “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.”

The next year, the now-freed slaves started celebrating Juneteenth in Galveston, and the celebration has continued around the nation and the world since.

WHAT DOES JUNETEENTH MEAN?

The term Juneteenth is a blend of the words June and nineteenth. The holiday has also been called Juneteenth Independence Day or Freedom Day.

According to Dee Evans, national director of communications of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation, there will be Juneteenth celebrations in almost every state this year.

Black Texans took the holiday with them as they moved around the country and overseas, Evans said, and what started as a local celebration went international.

Forty-six states and the District of Columbia recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday or day of recognition, like Flag Day. Countries like South Korea, Ghana, Israel, Taiwan, France, and the U.S. territory of Guam have held or now hold Juneteenth celebrations.

A resolution recognizing Juneteenth as a national holiday passed the Senate last year, but the accompanying resolution has not been approved in the House.

REMEMBERING THE PAST

Juneteenth celebrations used to revolve around the church with speeches and picnics, said Para LaNell Agboga, museum site coordinator at the George Washington Carver Museum, Cultural and Genealogy Center in Austin, Texas, which has one of the only permanent Juneteenth museum exhibits in the country.

It changed around the 1960s with the civil rights movement, she said.

“It became a little more secular and stretched over more than one day,” Agboga said. “It became kind of a time of community gathering … It’s really more huge parties and huge parades and big concerts, but always bringing in freedom. It’s all about freedom.”

More than 150 cities will have Juneteenth celebrations this year, Evans said.

Each celebration is different, from parades in places like Philadelphia, Chicago, New York, Atlanta, San Francisco and Houston, to concerts in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Denver and Marietta, Georgia, to free genealogy workshops outside of Washington, D.C., to readings of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Agboga, Evans and others are working to make sure Juneteenth celebrators don’t forget why the day exists.

“In 1776 the country was freed from the British, but the people were not all free,” Evans said. “June 19, 1865, was actually when the people and the entire country was actually free.”

It’s also a day to remember the sacrifices that were made for freedom in the United States, especially in these racially and politically charged days, Agboga said.

“Our freedoms are fragile, and it doesn’t take much for things to go backward,” she said.

PHOTO: AP

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7 thoughts on “Nationwide Juneteenth Celebrations Mark End Of Slavery

  1. The CHAINS and SHACKLES may be gone, but African Americans in Amerykah are still ENSLAVED.
    We are enslaved by the UNFAIR/RACIST system put into place to keep its FEET on OUR NECKS.

    This may be the 21st Century-but it is still the SOS!!!!!!!!

  2. I agree we have 10’s of millions blacks beholden from cradle to grave to the democratic plantation and it’s over-seers ever 4 years they tell you “vote for me I’ll give you sh!t” we had 8 years of [oh happy day] the 2nd black president…remember according to those over-seers Clinton was the first I remember the blk lady saying “we elected Obama I don’t have to worry about my mortgage now” ha ask the dumb broad how that worked out for her ( I saw her in a documentary where she was asked just that) America is the greatest place in the world for blacks to succeed just look at how many do if you choose to live in the past play the victim and accept democrats excuses for failure in other words stay on the plantation then you will be passed over and left behind

  3. jhuf on said:

    ANY and every black person born to legal citizens on American soil are American and thus part of Americas history I don’t see a single AA booking passage to any of the Ebola infested shithole country’s in Africa in fact thanks to the democrats ebola will soon be coming to us nearly 500 migrants from the Congo have been apprehended at the southern boarder

  4. Butter Pecan on said:

    Slavery will never end as long as our people are beholden to welfare and the Democratic Party’s plan to keep us poor and uneducated. #WalkAway Pees, I did

  5. Ted Gravely on said:

    Need to think about embracing our own holidays instead of the oppressors pagan bloody holidays. Black people shouldn’t support or celebrate the 4th of July. Why are you blowing your stupid self up with firecrackers? That bloody holiday ain’t for us. Thanksgiving? The killing of the Natives. WTF! Boycott buying and going out celebrating anything on those days. We need to celebrate righteous days. Stop believing the white lies of Easter and Christmas. Wake up!!!

    • lois on said:

      Nope, I never felt that the 4th of July was my holiday or a celebration for my people. When the Declaration of Independence was signed, enslaved African Americans were considered 3/5-ths of a person (where the HELL did that fraction come from?!). The colonizers had some f’-ing nerve declaring independence from England, yet they invaded Africa and snatched the residents and brought them here to America to make them slaves to the same folks who celebrated their ” freedom” from England. My people are still not free in this country, It is not my holiday but hell, I’ll take the day off.

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