Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States. Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation - which had become official January 1, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on the Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive order. However, with the surrender of General Lee in April of 1865, and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment, the forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance.
In a written statement, Mr. Obama said the Juneteenth anniversary serves as a time of reflection and appreciation. He said African Americans have helped build the nation "brick by brick" and have contributed to its growth in every way, even when they were denied rights and liberties.
Mr. Obama, the country's first African-American president, said the occasion carries "even more significance" considering Thursday's resolution passed unanimously in the Senate apologizing for slavery and segregation.
The resolution apologizes for "the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery" and system of institutionalized racism and segregation known as "Jim Crow."
The resolution, introduced by Senators Tom Harkin and Sam Brownback, "expresses its recommitment to the principle that all people are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." It also calls on all people of the U.S. to "work toward eliminating prejudices, injustices and discrimination from U.S. society."
The House of Representatives is also expected to take up the measure soon. A similar resolution passed by a voice vote in the House last year.