Today Americans celebrate Juneteenth National Independence Day, or simply Juneteenth. It commemorates June 19, 1865, the day that the last enslaved African Americans in the United States, a group living in Galveston, Texas, learned that they were free, having been emancipated over two years earlier.
On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which stated that all persons enslaved in the rebellious Confederate states were free. It was more of a threat than anything else because it only applied to the rebel states and was therefore unenforceable.
Technically, the enslaved people there were now free. But due to prevailing conditions, word was slow to spread. It was not until two months after the Civil War ended and Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston to take command of the garrison there that the joyful news reached the farthest, most isolated corner of the fallen Confederacy. With the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution on December 6, 1865, the institution of slavery and indentured or involuntary servitude was abolished everywhere on U.S. soil, forever.
The first celebrations of Juneteenth took place in Texas on June 19, 1866, and soon began to spread across the American South. It is considered to be the country’s longest-running African American holiday. But it took 156 years for the importance of the nineteenth of June 1865 to be 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.
“Juneteenth marks both the long, hard night of slavery and subjugation, and a promise of a brighter morning to come. This is a day of profound … weight and profound power. A day in which we remember the moral stain, the terrible toll that slavery took on the country and continues to take — what I’ve long called ‘America’s original sin,’ said President Biden during the signing ceremony.
“Great nations don’t ignore their most painful moments. They don’t ignore those moments of the past. They embrace them. Great nations don’t walk away. We come to terms with the mistakes we made. And in remembering those moments, we begin to heal and grow stronger.”