Juneteenth: What really happened?

2021 is the first year Juneteenth is being celebrated as a national holiday

ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) - For the first time in U.S. history, Juneteenth is being marked this year as a national holiday.

But the significance of June 19, for many Black Americans, dates back to 1865.

That’s when, as is widely believed and reported, the last enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Texas, were finally notified they were free. This news came more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation and more than a year after Congress passed the 13th amendment, abolishing slavery.

RELATED: Atlanta’s official Juneteenth Celebration kicks off June 17 in downtown

“Of course, we didn’t have Facebook or Twitter back then, and word the Emancipation Proclamation had been signed and the war had ended took a long time to reach the west,” said Richard Rose, president of the Atlanta NAACP. “And there were other battles and skirmishes that took place after Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse in April 1865.

“So a Union general came upon this town in Texas where Black people were still being enslaved, and he told them they were free, and should work out a form of compensation with their plantation owners,” Rose said. “Texas was the last frontier of the Confederacy.”

RELATED: Juneteenth parades, ceremonies and events in 2022

Rose said there’s no way to know if other African Americans were still being held in bondage even after June 19, 1865.

“You’ll have to excuse the lack of specificity regarding the date and actual location; I’m sure there could have been other communities that found out later,” Rose said. “But the important thing to remember is that freedom wasn’t automatic or immediate; the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1863, but the end of the war meant that it could be enforced across all of the United States.”

The Juneteenth National Independence Day Act was passed by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden last year, making June 17 the nation’s 12th federal holiday. A total of 14 House Republicans voted against the bill including one Georgia Congressional representative, Andrew Clyde of the 14th district.

RELATED: Peachtree TV’s special Juneteenth section

The bill’s main sponsor was U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass.

Tim Darnell

Tim Darnell

Tim Darnell is the Investigative Digital Content Producer for CBS46.