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Juneteenth is today. What it means, why it matters, how to celebrate

For the first time, companies across the US are observing the June 19 holiday. Here's what you can do to mark the day.

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Vitalii Abakumov/iStock

Juneteenth is today. A combination of the words June and 19th, the holiday marks the freedom of enslaved Black people in the US. Already widely celebrated in Black communities, the day is drawing more attention this year. In light of the Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality, sparked by the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud ArberyRayshard Brooks and others, more Americans are observing the day.

Juneteenth is also known as Freedom Day or Jubilee Day. It is commemorated or observed to some degree in nearly all US states. But major companies like Spotify, Twitter and Lyft have recently added Juneteenth to their calendars for the first time. Google made Juneteenth an official calendar holiday this past week. (Apple's calendar already noted it.) 

The national focus has resulted in a sudden push to make Juneteenth a national holiday, including a petition with real momentum. Some companies and organizations are also giving employees the day off to observe the holiday, including Nike, Target and the NFL. On Friday, entrepreneur Elon Musk agreed to make Juneteenth a permanent US holiday for his companies Tesla and Space X

If you're looking for ways to observe or celebrate Juneteenth this year, we've gathered a list of ideas for you. 

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Juneteenth history: How it came to signify the end of slavery

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 where 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 can I observe Juneteenth?

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.

Ways to celebrate Juneteenth today

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. CNET's sister site Chowhound also has this list of restaurants around the country.

Black lives matter. Support the cause 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 anti-racism, even from your living room.

Play today's Google Doodle: Google's homepage commemorates Juneteenth with an excerpt of James Weldon Johnson's poem Lift Every Voice and Sing, read by actor LeVar Burton. Burton is famous for his roles in the 1977 miniseries Roots, as Lt. Cmdr. Geordi La Forge in Star Trek: The Next Generation, and as host and executive producer of children's TV show Reading Rainbow.

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 throughout 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 issues. 

The Smithsonian Channel is airing a lineup of documentaries today that you can tune into. The programs will cover Black history from pre-Civil War all the way through the Obama presidency. Some selections can be viewed for free on YouTube via the playlist The Ongoing Struggle for Equality. Here are more Juneteenth TV shows and movie suggestions from CNET's sister site TV Guide.

Watch online Juneteenth events: Tune in to the virtual Juneteenth music festival or online gala, a block party in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and find a listing of local events where you live, like this one

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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 coronavirus pandemic is still a serious concern, make sure you're following your state's guidelines for group gatherings (here are the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guidelines). We recommend social distancing with people outside your household and the wearing of face masks when you aren't actively eating.

Juneteenth only comes once a year, but there are more ways you can help your community all year long. For example, you can support the Black Lives Matter movement or find a BLM protest where you live.