LEXINGTON, Ky. — African Americans across the country are celebrating Juneteenth on Friday.

It’s the day that commemorates the emancipation of the last African American slaves in the United States almost 150 years ago.

“Juneteenth is a commemoration of emancipation, so the end of race-based slavery in the United States but its story is pretty unique as are most Emancipation Day stories in American history,” said Vanessa Holden, an assistant professor at the University of Kentucky of History and African American and Africana studies. 

For more than a decade, Holden has studied and taught African American issues. 

Holden explains Juneteenth is the observance of the day in 1865 when Union soldiers arrived in Texas and announced that the Civil War was over and slaves were to be freed.

“African Americans then turned the month June and date 19 into one word, Juneteenth and began celebrating their Emancipation on that day,” Holden said.

Holden said there are many Emancipation Days in U.S. history, not just one single day. 

“One big change that has happened is the fight to have a national day to celebrate Emancipation is gaining the kind of traction that has major companies signing on, state government signing on well outside of Texas to make this a celebration day,” Holden said.

 That traction is slowly picking up. In Kentucky, Governor Andy Beshear announced a proclamation on Thursday honoring the holiday.

 At the same time, Holden points out more there are still calls for more progress.

“The current pandemic has really laid bare the way that these daily inequalities, these inequalities that the folks outside of the black communities, outside communities of color maybe do not see or think about are not just issues of how nice is an apartment or how far that you have to walk to a grocery store that it pushes on life or death circumstances,” Holden said.

President Abraham Lincoln signed Emancipation Day is in 1863, but it was two years later when African Americans were emancipated.