Today, June 18th, 2021, marks the first federally recognized observance of Juneteenth. Signed into law by President Biden, it marks the first new federally recognized holiday since 1983, when Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday was given the honor. But what does this holiday commemorate, and why is it relevant today? Let’s take a closer look. 

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In the middle

In the middle of the American Civil War in 1863, President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, announcing that all slaves in the United States were freed (with the exception of four Pro-Union border states – Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware.) It took two more years for the 13th amendment to be passed, which prohibited slavery and unpaid labor (again, with notable exceptions that exist to this day, namely, the prison population.) Juneteenth commemorates June 19th, 1865, when Union troops marched into Galveston Bay, Texas, and informed the roughly quarter-million enslaved locals that they were, in fact, free.