June 19 marks a special celebration for communities around the United States. Celebrated as Juneteenth, — a combination of “June” and “nineteenth” — the holiday recognizes when the United States ended its historic practice of slavery, legally and in the real world. In this sense, Juneteenth is a day for commemorating the “freedom” of all people living in the United States.

Whether you grew up celebrating Juneteenth or have never heard of it, here’s what you need to know about how the holiday came to be and why it matters to so many people.

How did Juneteenth get started?

President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863; it was intended, many were told, to free all slaves. But in August 1862, President Lincoln wrote an open letter to Horace Greeley, the editor of the New York Tribune, in which he described his actions as intent to preserve the Union rather than to abolish slavery.

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