Juneteenth (Celebration of Freedom)

Each year around June 19, we start to hear about upcoming Juneteenth celebrations. But this year is a little different. This Sunday is the first time we’ll celebrate Juneteenth as both a federal and state holiday in Colorado. 

Last June, Congress passed a bill establishing Juneteenth as a federal holiday. And when President Joe Biden signed it, he released this proclamation declaring it “a day that should be recognized by all Americans.” 

During the most recent legislative session, the Colorado state legislature followed suit—making this June 19 the first time that the day will be celebrated as a statewide holiday. Here’s the text of the act, which was signed into law by Governor Jared Polis on May 5, 2022. 

An Act  


The general assembly hereby finds and declares that:  

(a) Juneteenth National Independence Day, commonly known as Juneteenth, officially became the 11th federal holiday on June 17, 2021, and the first holiday to be added to the list of federal holidays since the recognition of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday in 1983; …

Emancipation Proclamation

(b) Juneteenth marks our country’s second Independence day. Although it has long been celebrated in the African American community, this monumental event remains largely unknown to most Americans. For decades, many southern Black communities were forced to celebrate Juneteenth on the outskirts of town due to racism and Jim Crow laws. Early Juneteenth celebrations included church services, public readings of the Emancipation Proclamation, and social events like rodeos and dances.  

(c) Juneteenth, also known as Jubilee Day, Freedom Day, and Emancipation Day, commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordan Granger, arrived in Galveston, Texas, and announced the end of the Civil War and declared that more than two hundred fifty thousand enslaved Black people were free. Many enslavers in the state of Texas and other states had continued to hold enslaved people captive despite the Emancipation Proclamation having been issued by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863.  

(d) On “Freedom’s Eve”, or the eve of January 1, 1863, the first Watch Night services took place. On that night, enslaved and free African Americans gathered in churches and private homes all across the country awaiting news that the Emancipation Proclamation had taken effect. At the stroke of midnight, prayers were answered as all enslaved people in Confederate states were declared legally free. Union soldiers, many of whom were Black, marched onto plantations and across cities in the south reading small copies of the Emancipation Proclamation and spreading the news of freedom in Confederate states.  

June 19th general order

(e) However, the news did not spread across many areas of the nation, and slavery was not officially abolished nationally until the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the constitution of the United States. Juneteenth celebrations commemorate the liberation of men and women and their descendants who were enslaved in areas that were not made aware of the effect of the Emancipation Proclamation until almost two and a half years later.  

(f) Therefore, the general assembly declares the designation of Juneteenth as a state legal holiday in remembrance of the rejoicement of the day Black slaves in Texas and other states learned of their freedom. The historical legacy of Juneteenth shows the value of never giving up hope in uncertain times. 

Read the full bill text on the Colorado legislature’s website. 

Want to Learn More? 

You can find books, articles and ideas for how to celebrate Juneteenth on the University of Colorado Libraries’ Juneteenth webpages.  

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