1. What is Juneteenth?
The holiday gets its name from June 191865. That’s the day the Union army arrived in Galveston, Texas, to announce that all enslaved African-Americans in the state were free in accordance with President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. The state was the last in the Confederacy to receive word that the Civil War was over and that slavery had been abolished, and the last where the federal Army established its authority.
2. What’s the historical significance of Juneteenth?
As early as 1866, freed African-Americans in Texas held a celebration on the date to commemorate the end of slavery. As Black families emigrated from the southern US after the Great Depression, observance spread throughout the country. In 1968, shortly after Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, his Poor People’s Campaign held a Juneteenth Solidarity Day, giving the holiday a new prominence in the civil rights movement.
3. Is Juneteenth an official holiday?
Yes, on the state as well as federal level. In 1980, Texas was the first to designate it as an official state holiday. In February 2022, South Dakota became the last.
4. Why has it been gaining prominence?
The Juneteenth holiday was still little known enough in 2017 outside the Black community that the television show “Black-ish” could build an episode around how few of the show’s White characters had heard of it. The rise of the Black Lives Matter protest movement led to an increase in commemorations in recent years. Then in 2020, the protests that erupted globally in after George Floyd was murdered by a police officer in Minneapolis in late May led to the widest ever observance of Juneteenth and to a new push in Congress for recognition. Even after the holiday’s federal designation, however, a Gallup poll released in June 2021 found that over 60% of Hispanic and White adults knew either “a little bit” or “nothing at all” about the holiday. Not all commemorations have been met with favor, however: In May 2022, Walmart apologized for introducing a “Juneteenth ice cream” to its stores, and pulled the product after backlash on social media.
5. How did Juneteenth become a federal holiday?
In June 2021, the Senate voted by unanimous consent to make Juneteenth the 11th annual national holiday on the federal calendar and the House of Representatives passed a similar measure by a vote of 415-14. President Joe Biden signed it into law hours later. “Great nations don’t ignore their most painful moments,” he said, praising the “overwhelming bipartisan support.” A proposal in 2020 by Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, to make Juneteenth a holiday had been blocked by Senator Ron Johnson, a Republican from Wisconsin, who objected to the cost. Johnson dropped his objection the following year.
6. Are employers required to give you time off on federal holidays?
The law forces US employers to decide whether to give their workers a paid day off, though some experts advocate for observing a day of service rather than offering time off. Many companies and union contracts peg their holiday schedule to the federal calendar, though some companies began offering Juneteenth as a paid holiday for workers beginning in 2020. When June 19 falls on a weekend, the holiday will be observed on either the Friday before, as happened in 2021, or the Monday after, as is the case in 2022.