(Reuters) – Juneteenth, an annual U.S. holiday on June 19, has taken on greater significance this year following nationwide protests over police brutality and the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks and other African Americans.
WHAT IS JUNETEENTH?
Juneteenth, a portmanteau of June and 19th, also is known as Emancipation Day. It commemorates the day in 1865, after the Confederate states surrendered to end the Civil War, when a Union general arrived in Texas to inform a group of enslaved African Americans of their freedom under President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation. In 1980, Texas officially declared it a holiday. It is now recognized in 46 other states and the District of Columbia, with only Hawaii, North and South Dakota remaining. Rules regarding holidays and days of observance vary from state to state, according to the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation, which is campaigning for Juneteenth to reach federal holiday status. Although in part a celebration, the day is also observed solemnly to honor those who suffered during slavery in the United States with the arrival of the first enslaved Africans over 400 years ago.
WHAT IS SIGNIFICANT THIS YEAR?
Juneteenth coincides this year with global protests against racial injustice sparked by the May 25 death of Floyd, a black man, in Minneapolis police custody. It also accompanies the coronavirus outbreak, which has disproportionately affected communities of color. Last week, U.S. President Donald Trump, who had already been under fire for his response to both crises, drew further criticism for scheduling a Friday re-election rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He has since moved it to Saturday. Tulsa is an important and especially sensitive site where a white mob massacred African American residents in 1921. Community organizations nationwide will devote the day to discussions on policing and civil rights ahead of the November election.
HOW ARE PEOPLE MARKING THE DAY?
People will mark the 155th anniversary across the country with festive meals and gatherings. While many cities have canceled this year’s annual parades because of the pandemic, other groups have opted for virtual conferences or smaller events. In Washington, groups plan marches, protests and rallies. Amid the wave of racial justice protests, New York’s governor on Wednesday signed an executive order to recognize Juneteenth as an official holiday for state employees. Some U.S. businesses have committed to a change of policies, including recognition of the holiday. Among the companies that have announced they will recognize Juneteenth as a paid company holiday are the National Football League, the New York Times, Twitter and Square.
(Curating by Aurora Ellis; Editing by Howard Goller and Cynthia Osterman)