What is Juneteenth?

For years, Juneteenth has been a day of celebration and education. But it isn’t a federal holiday, and until recently, it has been largely overlooked by non-black Americans.

But in the wake of the protests of the death of George Floyd, a wave of high-profile companies have made it a formal holiday, leading many to find out more about the holiday and its history.

Juneteenth is celebrated each year on June 19 and commemorates when Union General Gordon Granger informed people in Texas that all previously enslaved people in the state were free, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed.

"June 19th of 1865 was the last announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation, and it was a cause for celebration for black Americans," said Wallace Ford, an Associate Professor at Medgar Evers College. 

The day has become an annual holiday, largely celebrated by Black Americans but President Biden signed legislation that makes Juneteenth a federal holiday.

Companies across the nation are beginning to honor Juneteenth now, with the NFL announcing it will close its offices on the 19th to honor the day as part of their commitment to social justice, while Nike and Twitter will also give its employees the day off. 

"These are important steps in the right direction, but we shouldn’t be spiking the ball just yet," said Professor Ford.

But companies can also make missteps around the day.  Walmart has pulled Juneteenth ice cream and apologized after backlash on social media.

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.