On June 19, Americans celebrate Juneteenth, a holiday of unique significance to the country’s African American population. The date does not commemorate the day that the Emancipation Proclamation was formally issued—that was January 1, 1863. Nor does it mark the December 6, 1865, ratification of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which finally abolished slavery across the country.
Instead, it celebrates the day when the last, most isolated population of formerly enslaved people living on Galveston Island in Texas, received the news that they were finally free. June 19, 1865.
One year later, on June 19, 1866, Juneteenth was first celebrated in Texas, and the festivities soon began to spread across the American South. Today, Juneteenth is considered to be the country’s longest-running African American holiday.
It was another 156 years before the importance of the nineteenth of June 1865 was officially recognized. On June 17, 2021, President Joe Biden declared Juneteenth to be a Federal Holiday by signing the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law.
“To me, making Juneteenth a federal holiday wasn’t just a symbolic gesture,” said President Biden. “It was a statement of fact for this country to acknowledge the origin of — original sin of slavery.”
“To understand the war [that] was never fought over it — it wasn’t just about a Union, but it was most fundamentally about the country and freedom,” he said. “To remember the Emancipation Proclamation wasn’t just a document. It captured the essence of freedom that galvanized the country. It proved that some ideas are more powerful; they can’t be denied. It’s a reminder that the promise of America is we all are created equal in the image of God, and we deserve to be treated equally throughout our entire lives.”
Juneteenth marks both the long, hard night of slavery and subjugation, and a promise of a brighter morning to come.