President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in September 1862, and it was ratified on January 1, 1863. Its intent to abolish slavery, however, was stalled until the Confederate surrender at the Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865 and the end of the Civil War. The passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution would further prohibit its practice:
“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
Juneteenth commemorates the day on June 19, 1865, when Union army soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas to issue a proclamation of freedom for the newly-settled region of the southwestern United States:
"The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer."
— Major General Gordon Granger, Galveston, June 19th, 1865
Celebrations of June 19th as Emancipation Day began in June 1866 in Texas and neighboring states of Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, as well as in communities where many former slaves migrated, including Alabama and Florida. Celebrations were similar to those for the 4th of July, traditionally including a prayer service, readings of the Emancipation Proclamation, inspirational speakers, as well as music, dancing, rodeos, and barbecues. Celebrations were accompanied by feasts which included traditionally red foods, such as strawberry soda — for the luxury rarely afforded to slaves and symbolism of perseverance.
Although it is not a federal holiday, Juneteenth is recognized in 47 states and the District of Columbia as a holiday, prompting celebrations, national discussions, and recognition of the country’s dark history and the resilience of its citizens.