Juneteenth, the newest federal holiday recognized by the U.S. government, commemorates the day troops arrived in Texas to deliver news to enslaved African Americans that the Emancipation Proclamation had been signed and that they, and others, were free.

On June 19, 1865, troops came to Galveston two-and-a-half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the historic document that freed slaves in states that had seceded during the Civil War. It was by no means a total abolition of slavery, which didn’t come until 1865 with the ratification of the 13th Amendment, but the Emancipation Proclamation added “moral force” to the Union’s cause for the war, historians say.

And in some ways, it did deliver liberation.

“Formerly enslaved people immediately sought to reunify families, establish schools, run for political office, push radical legislation and even sue slaveholders for compensation” in the post-emancipation period, according to the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Texas became the first state to make Juneteenth an official government holiday in 1979, decades after communities had been celebrating the day in their own circles. It wasn’t until 2021, nearly 156 years later President Biden signed a bill into law to establish the holiday federally after an overwhelming 415-to-14 House vote and unanimous passage through the Senate, the Washington Post reported at the time.

“To me, making Juneteenth a federal holiday wasn’t just a symbolic gesture,” said Biden in remarks last year. “It was a statement of fact for this country to acknowledge the original sin of slavery.”

In Washington, D.C., government offices will be closed on Wednesday, June 19, and most federal employees with have the day off, according to the Office of Personnel Management.

This year, the holiday falls in the middle of the work week, and unless agencies or the President declare any additional days off, it’s not guaranteed employees will be granted more leave before or after to create a long weekend.

For example, in past years, the President has issued an executive order excusing workers from duty on the day before or day after Christmas.

In any case, department heads do have the authority to grant administrative leave to employees at their discretion. More recently, the Department of Agriculture gave its employees four hours of free leave for Public Service Recognition Week.

Molly Weisner is a staff reporter for Federal Times where she covers labor, policy and contracting pertaining to the government workforce. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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