What is Juneteenth?


Unidentified African American Union Veteran with 2 children ca 1900

On June 17, 2021, President Biden signed into law the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act (Senate bill S.475), which establishes June 19 (Juneteenth) as a federal holiday. This important step acknowledges America's beginnings as a slave-holding country and the crucial moment that slavery was abolished. The photograph on the left is an unidentified African American Union veteran with two small children circa 1900 (photograph courtesy of the Library of Congress).

What Is Juneteenth?

On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger led Union soldiers into Galveston Texas, to issue General Order 3, which abolished slavery. Even though the Emancipation Proclamation was issued two years previously, this was the first time that this edict could be enforced with the arrival of Major General Granger's soldiers and the surrender of General Robert E. Lee in April. Juneteenth celebrates June 19 as the day that slavery was abolished.

Texas was the first state to proclaim Juneteenth an official state holiday in June 1979. On June 16, 2021 Governor Pritzker signed House Bill 3922 recognizing Juneteenth as National Freedom Day in Illinois. If you are interested in learning about the Illinois statute, please see this guide on Illinois legislative history research.

Interesting Resources

You can find the text of the law and information about the bill on Congress.gov. If you would like to see news and other documents related to the bill, please visit ProQuest Congressional. You can also use ProQuest Congressional to learn about other Congressional attempts to address race and racism, such as the hearings on the Tulsa-Greenwood Race Riot Claims Accountability Act. To learn more about researching federal bills, please see our federal legislative history research guide or contact us at Ask a Law Librarian.

The Library of Congress has several interviews with former Texas slaves in its "Voices from the Days of Slavery" presentation. The Library of Congress also has a collection of Abraham Lincoln's papers, including a preliminary draft of the Emancipation Proclamation. You can also read more about General Order 3 on the National Archives website. If you are interested in learning more about the various statutes and case law concerning slavery, please see the Slavery in the United States and the World collection available on HeinOnline.

This June 2020 UChicago News article about Juneteenth describes more fully the practical implications of the general order and the history of Juneteenth. The Black Law Librarians Special Interest Section of the American Association of Law Libraries also has a June 18, 2021 blog post about Juneteenth, with links to various resources.

If you want to learn more about how the University is celebrating Juneteenth this year, please see this June 2023 UChicago News article.

If you are interested in researching other topics relevant to this issue, D’Angelo Law Library has a guide for researching issues related to civil rights and police accountability. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Office of Policy Development and Research also has information about housing discrimination, which you can find here.