On June 19, we celebrate Juneteenth in commemoration of the day when all slaves in America were finally freed and the institution of slavery finally began to legally crumble across the entire country. Tomorrow, we will celebrate Juneteenth—for the first time as a national holiday— in commemoration of the day when all slaves in America were finally legally freed and the institution of slavery finally crumbled.
Even though President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, his presidential decree could only be enforced in places that were not under Confederate control, which meant that the 250,000 enslaved Black people in Texas waited more than 2 years for freedom. On June 19, 1865, about 2,000 Union forces marched to Galveston, Texas and finally emancipated the last known community of Black slaves.
While Juneteenth is a celebration of freedom, it is also a reminder that for too many and for too long, America has broken its core promise of freedom for all. Not only did the slaves in Galveston wait more than 2 years to enjoy the freedom granted to them by President Lincoln, but it was not until almost 6 months later when the 13th amendment was finally ratified, and slavery was truly abolished in all states. America aspired to become a more perfect union. Even then, the fight continued, and to this day Black Americans are still forced to fight for justice, dignity and respect.
Nevertheless, on June 19 we celebrate that moment at the height of summer 156 years ago when the Black slaves in Galveston, Texas were finally able to live as freedmen and freedwomen. We celebrate the 156 years since, during which the tenacity of pioneering Black Americans helped define our Nation and drive its progress, despite having to fight for basic rights guaranteed to all Americans. We celebrate the descendants of those pioneers, many of whom have signed up to protect and defend our country’s freedoms despite being denied the right to those same fundamental freedoms. And we thank our Black Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) teammates, who have answered the call to uphold our sacred obligation to Veterans, their families and caregivers.
On Juneteenth, we remember, we commemorate and we reflect on the long road to freedom forced upon Black slaves across America. We stand with those who have continued that fight ever since. Their resilience represents the best of us, and we at VA, will never forget their sacrifices to this Nation. America proudly celebrates alongside them.