Over the course of four years, enslaved people worked to turn the Civil War into a freedom war. Slowly but surely, they pushed President Abraham Lincoln and his commanders in the field toward embracing emancipation as a war aim and to compel them to take the giant steps forward needed to abolish slavery once and for all. On June 19, 1865, the federal government met that objective, declaring slavery dead in the state of Texas. This momentous event marked a new birth of freedom—an occasion we now commemorate as Juneteenth.
Richard Bell is a professor of history at the University of Maryland. He is the author of the new book Stolen: Five Free Boys Kidnapped into Slavery and Their Astonishing Odyssey Home. He is the recipient of more than a dozen teaching awards and the National Endowment for the Humanities Public Scholar Award. He is a fellow of the Royal Historical Society.