On “Freedom’s Eve,” or the eve of January 1, 1863, some of the first Watch Night services took place. On that night, enslaved and free African Americans gathered in churches and private homes all across the country, awaiting news that the Emancipation Proclamation had taken effect. At the stroke of midnight, prayers were answered as all enslaved people in the Confederate States were declared legally free. Union soldiers, many of whom were Black, marched onto plantations and across cities in the south, reading small copies of the Emancipation Proclamation, spreading the news of freedom in Confederate States. Only through the Thirteenth Amendment did emancipation end enslavement throughout the United States.

But not everyone in Confederate territory would immediately be free. Even though the Emancipation Proclamation was made effective in 1863, it 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 some 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.

The newly emancipated responded with cries of joy and prayers of gratitude — a celebration that became known as Juneteenth. Black Texans marked the day each year with parades and picnics, music, and fine clothes. The gatherings grew through the aborted promise of Reconstruction, through racial terror and Jim Crow, and through the Great Depression, with a significant revival in the 1980s and 1990s.

Last summer, amid the racial-justice protests following the murder of George Floyd, millions of White Americans became aware of Juneteenth for the first time. Some companies announced they would give employees the day off on Juneteenth, and momentum grew to make it a national holiday.

One hundred fifty-six years later, the Senate voted unanimously to do just that. The House moved quickly Wednesday to pass the bill, approving the measure in a 415-to-14 vote. President Biden signed the bill in the East Room on Thursday, making Juneteenth the first new federal holiday since 1983, when Martin Luther King Jr. Day was created.

Juneteenth marks our country’s second independence day. This day shows the value of never giving up hope in uncertain times. AzPHA celebrates this hope and encourages everyone to consider Sankofa, which expresses the importance of reaching back to knowledge gained in the past and bringing it into the present to make positive progress.

Read more here and watch more here. Teach your children and/or grandchildren about Juneteenth with this video.