While celebrated for over 150 years in some Black American communities, Juneteenth is a relatively new holiday for “mainstream” America.
Juneteenth (the holiday’s name is a combination of the words “June” and “nineteenth”), or Freedom Day, marks the anniversary of June 19, 1865, when Major General Gordon Granger and Union Army troops marched to Galveston, Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation and free the last enslaved Black Americans in Texas—over two years after the Proclamation had been issued.
Granger issued General Order No. 3 which stated:
“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 freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”
General Orders, Number 3; Headquarters District of Texas, Galveston June 19, 1865
Black Americans, especially in Texas, have celebrated the holiday since 1866, and in 2021, Juneteenth became a federal holiday after the U.S. Congress passed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act.
The Act was a nearly (in political time) immediate reaction to widespread national protests against racial injustice, sparked by the 2020 videotaped lynching of George Floyd. Juneteenth marked the first national holiday established since Martin Luther King’s Birthday in 1983.
The holiday has a flag, which is red, white, and blue to acknowledge that formerly enslaved people and their descendants are some of the first Americans. The star at the flag’s center is a shout-out to Texas where Juneteenth was first celebrated.
Stations from PBS to CNN to BET celebrate the holiday in their own ways—usually by running programming related to Black American history—but some TV shows and movies have already integrated the holiday into their storylines.
Some of the most notable are:
The Golden Globe-winning TV show commemorated the holiday in their season 4 premiere, appropriately titled “Juneteenth.”
This film shines a light on the beauty pageant that was born out of the holiday’s celebration.
The ninth episode of the first season of the Golden Globe-winning series sparked many an awkward conversation, in the way Atlanta always does.
And three projects to stream that directly address the fallout of General Order No. 3 and the subsequent Thirteenth Amendment (which officially made chattel slavery illegal in the United States) are:
Ava Duvernay’s 2016 documentary that examines how slavery was reimaged through the prison-industrial complex.
The HBO series opened the general public’s eyes to horrors like the 1921 Tulsa race massacre, which eluded many of our textbooks, and showed the world that the plight of the formerly enslaved did not end on June 19, 1865.
Award-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones’ docuseries examines the consequences of slavery and the contributions Black Americans have been making in The United States since the first enslaved people arrived.