This story was originally published on June 19, 2020
There were rallies, celebrations, and marches all over Brooklyn on Friday to celebrate the actual end of slavery 155 years ago.
It took a full two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation -- and two months after the end of the Civil War -- for Union General Gordon Granger to bring the news of freedom to enslaved people in Galveston, Texas. Some 250,000 people were still living in slavery at the time, Washington Post reported.
Black Americans in and around Texas have celebrated ever since. Texas declared Juneteenth a holiday in 1980, but only in recent years has it grown more mainstream.
Elizabeth Cloutier, a native New Yorker who attended a rally outside of the Brooklyn Museum, said she'd never learned about Juneteenth in any classroom. This year marked her first time celebrating.
"I've been seeing how important it is," Cloutier said. "And I like the idea that nobody is free until everybody is free, and so I think that it's really important to discuss the history."
Matthew Countryman, a historian who chairs the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies at the University of Michigan, said the holiday also serves as an opportunity for the Black community to celebrate and commemorate a history often overlooked by mainstream America.
"It was something that was much more of a grassroots initiative where people found different ways of celebrating in different communities, and they celebrated their local histories as a Black community. And, often, that history is overlooked in the larger society," he said.
This year's Juneteenth celebration takes on additional layers of meaning in the wake of the police killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd -- and the conversations around systemic racism and police brutality they have prompted.
LaDejah Baker, who attended the rally outside the Brooklyn Museum, said that even 155 years after slavery was eradicated in the U.S., many in the Black community still don't feel fully free.
"It's a celebration of freedom, but a lot of us feel like it's not a day of freedom because we are still being killed today," she said. "And I feel like this celebration will be celebrated more than it usually is because it is very underrated. A lot of people didn't even know this was a holiday."
Undercurrents of the Black Lives Matter movement ran strong in Brooklyn's Juneteenth celebrations. Participants could be heard chanting "Black Joy" and "Black Lives Matter," and calling to defund the police. There were even signs with the names of those who have died at the hands of police.
Countryman said it only makes sense that the Juneteenth holiday could perhaps amplify the calls of the Back Lives Matter movement.
"The struggle for full inclusion and for full citizenship, for economic equality, educational equality, and for black liberation is not a one-time thing. This is an ongoing, historic process that has throughout our history been led by black people standing up for themselves and organizing collectively. That is a fitting connection between what Juneteenth meant in its origins and what Black Lives Matter has come to mean now," he explained.
In recent weeks, a slate of major companies including Nike, JCPenney, Twitter, Square, Mastercard, and Lyft, among others, have acknowledged growing momentum around Juneteenth by offering employees paid time off on June 19, during which they are encouraged to educate themselves on historic race issues or even to volunteer.
Countryman said growing exposure for the holiday could be beneficial so long as companies don't stop there.
"One of the things about what's happening now in terms of the protests is a statement that we are no longer willing to accept the status quo," he said. "That problem is not going to be solved by recognition of the Juneteenth holiday."
In recent weeks, there have been calls on both sides of the aisle in Congress to make Juneteenth a national holiday. A group of Senate Democrats announced on Friday they would introduce a bill, called the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, ABC News reported. If passed, the bill would make Juneteenth the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Day.
This story was photographed by Douglas C. Murray