Understanding the Legal Significance of Juneteenth

Juneteenth is a significant holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. Celebrated on June 19, it marks the day in 1865 when Union troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, and announced that all enslaved people were free—over two years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

To quickly understand Juneteenth, here are the key points:

  • Date: June 19th every year.
  • Significance: Celebrates the end of slavery in the United States.
  • Started: Officially celebrated since 1865, became a federal holiday in 2021.
  • Traditions: Public readings, singing, family gatherings, and red-colored foods.

Juneteenth’s rich history underscores its importance. Though the Emancipation Proclamation was issued on January 1, 1863, slavery’s actual end was delayed in remote Confederate states like Texas. Federal troops had to enforce freedom, making June 19, 1865, a pivotal date for true emancipation.

I’m Justie Nicol, a former prosecutor with experience in understanding laws affecting civil rights. Through my legal career, I’ve seen the importance of commemorating milestones like Juneteenth.

Infographic: Key Juneteenth Facts

Infographic detailing key facts about Juneteenth's significance, history, and traditions. - Juneteeth infographic pillar-4-steps

The History and Significance of Juneteenth

The First Juneteenth

On June 19, 1865, Union Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas, with news that would change the lives of over 250,000 enslaved people. His announcement marked the enforcement of the Emancipation Proclamation in Texas, nearly two and a half years after it was initially issued by President Abraham Lincoln. This day became known as Juneteenth or Freedom Day.

“The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.” — General Order No. 3, Gordon Granger, June 19, 1865

Despite the Emancipation Proclamation being issued on January 1, 1863, it could not be implemented in areas still under Confederate control. Texas, being remote and less affected by the Civil War, became a haven for slaveholders who moved there with their enslaved people to escape the fighting. This delay in enforcement meant that many enslaved individuals in Texas remained unaware of their freedom until Granger’s arrival.

The Emancipation Proclamation and Its Impact

The Emancipation Proclamation, issued on January 1, 1863, declared that all enslaved people in Confederate states were to be set free. However, this declaration could only be enforced in areas controlled by the Union Army. It was on “Freedom’s Eve,” December 31, 1862, that enslaved and free African Americans gathered in churches and homes, anxiously awaiting the news of their legal freedom. This event is commemorated through Watch Night services to this day.

Union soldiers, many of whom were Black, played a crucial role in spreading the news of emancipation. They marched onto plantations and through cities, reading small copies of the Emancipation Proclamation. However, due to the ongoing Civil War, the proclamation’s effect was limited until Union forces could secure the Confederate territories.

The Significance of June 19, 1865

When General Granger and his troops arrived in Texas, they brought with them the force needed to implement the Emancipation Proclamation. On June 19, 1865, Granger issued General Order No. 3, officially freeing the enslaved people in Texas. This day not only marked the end of slavery in Texas but also symbolized the promise of freedom and equality for all.

The Thirteenth Amendment, ratified on December 6, 1865, finally abolished slavery throughout the United States. This legal milestone ensured that the freedom declared by the Emancipation Proclamation was recognized across the entire nation.

The Reconstruction Era

The period following the Civil War, known as Reconstruction (1865-1877), was a time of significant change and hope. Formerly enslaved people sought to reunite with family members, establish schools, and gain political representation. They pushed for radical legislation and even sued former slaveholders for compensation. This era laid the groundwork for future civil rights movements and highlighted the resilience and determination of the Black community.

Juneteenth marks our country’s second Independence Day, celebrating the end of slavery and the ongoing fight for freedom and equality. It is a reminder of the long journey toward justice and the importance of never giving up hope.

Infographic: Key Juneteenth Facts

Next, we will explore the ways Juneteenth is celebrated today, from traditional foods to modern observances.

Celebrating Juneteenth Today

Traditional Juneteenth Celebrations

Juneteenth is a vibrant celebration of freedom, community, and Black resilience. Traditional celebrations often include family cookouts, faith services, and community gatherings. These events are rich in food and fellowship, with a special focus on red foods like barbecued ribs, watermelon, and red velvet cake. The color red symbolizes the bloodshed and sacrifice of enslaved ancestors.

Historically, these gatherings were a way for formerly enslaved people and their descendants to come together and celebrate their newfound freedom. Early celebrations featured activities such as baseball, fishing, and rodeos. Elaborate meals and participants dressed in their best clothing were common, emphasizing the joy and dignity of the occasion.

Modern Juneteenth Observances

In 2021, Juneteenth was officially recognized as a federal holiday, making it the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983. This recognition has broadened the scope of Juneteenth celebrations across the United States.

Juneteenth Flag - Juneteeth

Community events now include musical performances, storytelling, and educational events. For example, the White House recently hosted a concert featuring artists like Gladys Knight and Patti LaBelle. Many cities and states also hold parades, festivals, and fairs, offering access to healthcare professionals, financial advisors, and other community resources.

State recognition of Juneteenth varies, but every U.S. state and the District of Columbia have formally acknowledged the holiday in some way. Educational institutions and organizations often host panels and discussions to educate the public about the history and significance of Juneteenth.

Food and Fellowship

Food remains a central part of Juneteenth celebrations. Family cookouts and community feasts bring people together to share stories and enjoy traditional dishes. The emphasis on red foods continues, symbolizing resilience and joy.

Black Resilience and Community Gatherings

Juneteenth is not just a celebration but also a time for reflection and education. The holiday serves as a reminder of the ongoing fight for human rights and equality. It is a day to honor the perseverance and achievements of the Black community, while also acknowledging the work still needed to eradicate systemic racism.

Federal and State Recognition

The federal recognition of Juneteenth has led to increased awareness and participation in the holiday. Many companies now offer paid time off for employees, and public holidays are observed in various states. This recognition has helped to integrate Juneteenth into the broader narrative of American history, emphasizing its importance to all citizens.

Educational Events

Educational events are a crucial part of modern Juneteenth observances. Universities, museums, and community organizations host panels, lectures, and exhibits to educate the public about the history of slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, and ongoing struggles for equality. These events aim to foster a deeper understanding of Black history and its significance in shaping the nation.

Educational Event - Juneteeth


The ways we celebrate Juneteenth today reflect both the rich traditions of the past and the evolving recognition of its importance. From family cookouts and community gatherings to educational events and federal recognition, Juneteenth continues to be a powerful symbol of freedom and resilience.

The Ongoing Legacy of Juneteenth

Juneteenth and Education

Juneteenth offers a vital opportunity to educate about the history of slavery, Black perseverance, and American history. Teachers like Odessa Pickett at the Barack Obama Learning Academy emphasize the importance of incorporating Juneteenth into the curriculum. “If it’s not in the textbook, then we need to introduce it,” she says. “We need to bring it to the forefront.”

Teaching about Juneteenth goes beyond the end of slavery. It’s about understanding what it means to fight for freedom and maintain self-determination in the face of systemic racism. Lessons about Juneteenth can help students grasp the broader context of Black history and the ongoing struggles for equality.

Juneteenth and Legal Progress

The legal significance of Juneteenth extends to modern legislative efforts aimed at promoting human rights and equality. In 2021, Juneteenth was declared a federal holiday, underscoring its importance. This move has paved the way for further legal advancements.

One notable legal milestone is the establishment of a federal hate crime law, which strengthens penalties for crimes motivated by race, religion, or other protected characteristics. This law is part of a broader effort to address systemic racism and promote justice.

Another significant development is the push to establish an Emmett Till monument. Emmett Till’s brutal murder in 1955 was a catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement. A monument in his honor would serve as a powerful reminder of the ongoing fight for racial justice.

Black leaders continue to advocate for voting rights, an area where progress is still needed. The legacy of Juneteenth reminds us of the importance of ensuring that all citizens have equal access to the ballot box.

The ongoing legacy of Juneteenth encompasses education, legal progress, and the continued fight for human rights and equality. By teaching about Juneteenth and advocating for legal reforms, we honor the past while working towards a more just future.


At COLaw Team, we believe in celebrating freedom and progress while striving for unity. Juneteenth is more than just a day of remembrance; it’s a call to action for all of us to continue the work of eradicating systemic racism.

Celebrating Freedom: Juneteenth is a powerful reminder of the long and painful journey towards freedom. It marks the end of slavery in the United States and serves as a beacon of hope and resilience. As we celebrate this day, we honor the sacrifices and struggles of those who fought for freedom and equality.

Progress and Unity: Juneteenth also symbolizes the progress we have made as a nation. From the abolition of slavery to the civil rights movement and beyond, each step forward has been a testament to our collective strength and determination. By coming together in unity, we can continue to build on this progress and create a more inclusive and equitable society.

Eradicating Systemic Racism: The fight against systemic racism is far from over. Juneteenth calls on all of us to recommit to this cause. Whether through education, advocacy, or legal reforms, we must work together to dismantle the structures of inequality that persist in our society.

At COLaw Team, we are dedicated to supporting this mission. Join us in celebrating Juneteenth, not just as a historical event, but as a catalyst for ongoing change. Together, we can honor the past, celebrate the present, and build a brighter future for all.

By understanding and commemorating Juneteenth, we take a step closer to realizing the ideals of freedom and equality for every American. Let’s continue to march forward, united in our commitment to justice and progress.