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Many of you might not even be aware, but this past Sunday we celebrated the first new federal holiday since President Reagan added Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday in 1983. Until Juneteenth, there had been 10 federal holidays. The fact that the last two new federal holidays honor civil rights shows something about the state of our country today.

When I read the date that MLK’s birthday became a holiday, I was surprised that it was in 1983. I always remember it being a holiday, and can’t remember a time when it was not. Perhaps today’s children will always remember and know the meaning of Juneteenth, as it will be a part of our country’s federal holidays for most of their lives.

Juneteenth celebrates the end of slavery in the United States. Even though President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, which declared all slaves living in the Confederate states to be free, it took two years for the news to reach African Americans living in Texas.

According to, “It was not until Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, that the state’s residents finally learned that slavery had been abolished. The former slaves immediately began to celebrate with prayer, feasting, song, and dance.”

The following year, the first Juneteenth celebrations took place in Texas, and within a few years African Americans in many other states were celebrating the day annually. Juneteenth became a state holiday in Texas in 1980, and many other states followed suit, but not until the 21st century. With it becoming a federal holiday last year, now everyone can mark this important day in American history.

Shari Van Baale
Salem Communications Coordinator

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