On Wednesday, June 17, 2021, President Biden signed a bill creating a new Federal Holiday. This is a rare event as the last Federal Holiday, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, was approved in 1983. But what does Juneteenth commemorate?
President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, freeing all slaves in the United States and its territories. The Civil War would continue for a few more months until General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia, in April of 1863. Union Troops began working their way west to put down any uprisings and spread the word. On June 19, 1865, some 30 months after the Confederates surrendered, General Gordon Granger’s troops finally rode into Galveston, Texas and freed the 250,000 people enslaved there. Juneteenth commemorates the day that the last slaves in the United States were freed. It would take another few months for the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, to the Constitution to be ratified in December 1865.
Interestingly, Texas, the last place vestige of slavery in the United States, was the first state to make Juneteenth an official State Holiday in 1979. Forty-nine states have followed, with South Dakota being the only state in which Juneteenth is not an official holiday. Juneteenth has been called Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, and Jubilee Day among other names.