There are a few days on the calendar which might serve as an optimal holiday to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States. If we proceed chronologically through the events themselves rather than the calendar:
There’s September 22nd, which would mark the day in 1862 that President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
The Emancipation went into effect on January 1st, 1863.
The Civil War essentially ended on April 9th, 1865 with Lee’s surrender, and officially ended exactly one month later when President Johnson declared the rebellion to be over.
June 19th, 1865 is of course Juneteenth, which marks the day that the Emancipation took effect in Texas due to the arrival of a northern occupation army that would announce it and could enforce it…
…and full abolition was achieved on December 6th, 1865, with ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment.
June 19th is the obvious candidate for a full-fledged federal holiday, given that it was celebrated in Texas as early as 1866 and has grown in national awareness. There’s bipartisan support for making it a federal holiday, and little doubt that it will be one by this time next year. It is altogether fitting and proper that it should be so.
But something quite relevant gets left out of most narratives I’ve seen of late regarding the Emancipation, and Juneteenth, and the Abolition. For something like a year, year-and-a-half after the war ended, emancipation was enforced only where there was a northern army nearby to enforce it. There are records of many slaves being freed by northern troops, only to be re-enslaved as the Yankees marched to another area. Silly old yarnspinner Bailey’s American Pageant refers to a North Carolinian man who was freed, re-enslaved, re-freed, and so on, a dozen times by his estimate. The lesson, I think, is that no matter what laws are written in the books, you have to be vigilant in guarding liberty– your own, and that of others who can’t guard it themselves.
In addition to going on the record in support of a federal Juneteenth holiday, I’d also like to register my irritation at seeing so many former students on social media lament that they were never taught about this, or never taught about that. I would like to tell my extremely diligent and conscientious former students that there’s an awful lot of stuff that you may not have learned, but you definitely were taught.