Juneteenth 2022: The History of the Holiday and How to Celebrate Today

Everything to know what the holiday signifies and how (and when) it's being observed this year.

CNET staff
4 min read
Juneteenth Freedom Day graphic

Official Juneteenth observances have become more common.

Vitalii Abakumov/iStock

Juneteenth is today, and 2022 marks the second year it's been an official federal holiday. President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act last year, making it the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was added in 1983

A portmanteau of the date it's celebrated, Juneteenth commemorates the freedom of enslaved Black people in the US. It's also known as Freedom Day or Jubilee Day.

"The emancipation of enslaved Black Americans didn't mark the end of America's work to deliver on the promise of equality; it only marked the beginning," Biden said just before signing the Juneteenth holiday into law. "To honor the true meaning of Juneteenth, we have to continue toward that promise because we've not gotten there yet."

The observation of Juneteenth stretches back to 1865, but the holiday gained significant national attention in 2020, after the deaths of George FloydBreonna TaylorAhmaud ArberyRayshard Brooks and others sparked Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality and systematic violence aimed at Black Americans.

Here's what to know about Juneteenth, including the history of the day, how and when it's observed, how you can celebrate and which states have made it a public holiday.

What does making Juneteenth a federal holiday mean?

Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act in 2021, making it a federal holiday. That means it's established by law like holidays including Labor Day, Memorial Day and New Year's Day. Juneteenth is the 11th federal holiday in the US. 

As with other federal holidays, banks, schools and government companies (like post offices) are expected to be closed. Since Juneteenth falls on a Sunday this year, many workers in states that recognize the holiday will have Monday, June 20, off of work, though some will instead observe it on Friday, June 17.

How did Juneteenth come to symbolize the end of Black enslavement?

Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, and read a federal order abolishing the institution of slavery in the state:

"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 moment was significant. Texas had been the last of the Confederate states in which enslavement continued, despite President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation to end slavery in 1863 and despite the end of the Civil War on April 9, 1865. Texas was the most remote state in the Confederacy, and it took Union forces until June to reach Texas in sufficient numbers to announce and enforce the federal order that ended slavery there. (The 13th Amendment, which added the abolishment of slavery to the Constitution, passed Congress in January 1865, but wasn't ratified and adopted until December 1865.)

Since June 19, 1865, Americans have observed and celebrated Juneteenth as Emancipation Day, a day of freedom. In 1980, Texas began marking Juneteenth as an official state holiday, the first state to do so. Now, nearly all states commemorate or observe Juneteenth to some degree.

How is Juneteenth observed?

Some traditional ways to celebrate Juneteenth that you may still see today are rodeos, fishing, barbecuing and baseball, according to the Juneteenth website. A prayer service, speaker series, reading of the Emancipation Proclamation and dances are among other early Juneteenth celebrations, according to the Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

How can I celebrate Juneteenth in 2022?

Order food from a Black-owned restaurant: Support Black restaurant owners in your community by ordering food on Juneteenth and beyond -- here are eight ways to find Black-owned restaurants where you live. Yelp and Uber Eats can help you find these restaurants on their apps. You can also visit Hungry for the Culture to find Black-owned restaurants in most major US cities.

Black lives matter. Support the cause in these eight ways: From making donations to getting more involved in your local community, here are real ideas you can participate in to support the Black Lives Matter movement and antiracism, even from your living room.

Educate yourself and reflect: While slavery ended in 1865, racism persists in countless institutions. Use June 19 as a day to reflect on critical issues that perpetuate discrimination against Black people in America and around the world. Spend the day reading about Juneteenth's history, including how Black families felt after being emancipated. Watch the documentary 13th on Netflix, or engage with other movies, shows, books and podcasts that can help reveal real-world, present-day issues. 

Watch online Juneteenth events: Tune in virtually to the Juneteenth music festival or online celebrations and find a listing of local events where you live.

Place a sign in your front yard: Raise awareness and show your support for Juneteenth by decorating a sign for your front yard or door. This is a great way to help educate younger kids in your neighborhood who may not know about the holiday.

Celebrate with a barbecue or family meal: Gather your family together to celebrate freedom. Since the pandemic is still a serious concern, make sure you're following your state's guidelines for indoor group gatherings (here are the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guidelines). If you're celebrating indoors, we recommend opening windows for ventilation.

Juneteenth only comes once a year, but there are more ways you can help your community all year long -- for instance, supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.

In which states is Juneteenth a paid holiday?

While many states celebrate Juneteenth as a holiday, these are the states that observe it as a paid holiday. Note that many cities in the states not listed also recognize it as a paid holiday.

  • Illinois
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Texas
  • Virginia
  • Washington