Juneteenth is one of the most important events in our nation’s history. On “Freedom’s Eve” or the eve of January 1, 1863 the first Watch Night services took place. On that night, enslaved and free African Americans gathered in churches and private homes all across the country awaiting news that the Emancipation Proclamation had taken effect.
At the stroke of midnight, prayers were answered as all enslaved people in the Confederate States were declared legally free. Union soldiers, many of whom were black, marched onto plantations and across cities in the south reading small copies of the Emancipation Proclamation spreading the news of freedom.
But not everyone in Confederate territory would immediately be free. Even though the Emancipation Proclamation was made effective in 1863, it could not be implemented in places still under Confederate control. This meant that in the westernmost Confederate state of Texas, enslaved people would not be free until much later. On June 19, 1865 that changed, when enslaved African Americans in Galveston Bay, TX were notified by the arrival of some 2,000 Union troops that they, along with the more than 250,000 other enslaved black people in the state, were free by executive decree.
-- The Historical Legacy of Juneteenth, National Museum of African American History & Culture at the Smithsonian