President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 officially outlawed slavery but not everyone in Confederate territory would immediately be free. The Emancipation Proclamation could not be implemented in places still under Confederate control. As a result, in the westernmost Confederate state of Texas, enslaved people would not be free until much later. Freedom finally came on June 19, 1865, when 2,000 Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas. The army announced that the more than 250,000 enslaved Black people in the state, were free by executive decree. This day came to be known as "Juneteenth" by the newly freed people in Texas. The post-emancipation period known as Reconstruction (1865-1877) marked an era of great hope, uncertainty, and struggle for the nation as a whole. Formerly enslaved people immediately sought to reunify families, establish schools, run for political office, push for better legislation, and even sue slaveholders for compensation. Given the 200+ years of enslavement, these changes were amazing. Not even a generation out of slavery, African Americans were inspired and empowered to transform their lives and their country.
Although Juneteenth has been celebrated annually by various states since 1866, on June 17, 2021, President Joseph Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law making June 19th a federal holiday. Let us hope this day continues to propel the United States into a place where every person is treated equally.