Juneteenth: What you need to know

Twitter, Nike and the NFL are among those moving to declare June 19 a paid company holiday

Juneteenth -- short for June 19 -- marks the effective end of slavery in the United States in 1865.

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For 155 years, the date has commemorated the moment when Union soldiers marched into Galveston, Texas, and told slaves that the Civil War had ended and that they were free.

It's now widely seen as the longest-running national celebration of the end of slavery in the United States, with 46 states and the District of Columbia officially recognizing it as a holiday or day of recognition.

Juneteenth has yet to be declared a federal holiday, although it has been acknowledged in the Capitol. The Senate passed resolutions marking it as Juneteenth Independence Day in 2018 and 2019, and the House of Representatives did the same in 2019.

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This year, the celebration comes amid a nationwide racial justice movement that has been re-energized by the death of George Floyd, the latest in a series of black people to die in police custody.

Like years past, celebrations spanning the country -- including parades and readings of the Emancipation Proclamation -- are expected to continue with some major companies and even the NFL moving to declare it a paid holiday.

The path toward the first Juneteenth dates at least to September 22, 1862, when President Abraham Lincoln issued a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, notifying the Confederate states that if they didn't stand down, then all slaves in the rebellious territory would be free.

The Confederacy kept fighting, however, and a little more than three months later, on January 1, 1863, Lincoln issued the formal Emancipation Proclamation declaring that "that all persons held as slaves" within the rebellious states "are, and henceforward shall be free," according to documents in the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

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Young men from the Like Brothers dance team marching in the Juneteenth celebration parade in Denver, Colorado on June 20, 2015. (Photo By Joe Amon/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

It was a largely symbolic action, however, until the end of the Civil War in April 1865. The news of General Robert E. Lee's surrender didn't reach Texas, where many slave-holding landowners had fled during the conflict, until two months later when Union Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston to occupy the state and began enforcing U.S. law.

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On June 19, Granger read General Order No. 3, which said: “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.”

A family of black slaves working on a plantation. Saint Louis (Photo by Mondadori via Getty Images)

The next year, the now-freed slaves began celebrating Juneteenth in Galveston. Since then, the celebration has found its way into communities around the world. Texas was the first to make it a state holiday in 1980.

On Wednesday, New York’s governor signed an executive order recognizing Juneteenth as a paid holiday for state employees. He also promised to advance legislation to make it an official state holiday in 2021.

“It is a day we should all reflect upon. It is a day that is especially relevant in this moment in history,” Cuomo said.

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His announcement comes on the heels of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam's proposal to make Juneteenth an official holiday in the state that was once home to the capital of the Confederacy.

Countries including South Korea, Ghana, Israel, Taiwan, France, and the U.S. territory of Guam have held or now hold Juneteenth celebrations.

The Associated Press contributed to this story. 

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