This used to be considered as an annual observance of the time when it was announced that slavery is starting to become banned in the United States. A lot of slaves were freed then but there was also an ongoing war at that time that made it harder for people to communicate with each other. It took two more years before some of the slaves were able to get away for good.
This started out in the year 1865 but some people are saying that the celebration of this as a national holiday only started a few decades ago. How big this national holiday is will depend on the state wherein you would be staying on.