Joe Biden Signs Bill Making Juneteenth A Federal Holiday

June 17, 2021 by Dan McCue
President Joe Biden signs the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, in the East Room of the White House, Thursday, June 17, 2021, in Washington. From left, Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif, Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., Opal Lee, Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., obscured, Vice President Kamala Harris, House Majority Whip James Clyburn of S.C., Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Joe Biden signed legislation Thursday establishing a new federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery, saying he believes it will go down as one of the greatest honors he has as president.

The holiday commemorates African Americans’ freedom from slavery, and has long been observed in local and state celebrations.

It was on June 19, 1865 that enslaved Black Americans in Galveston, Texas, learned that they were free, and their first celebration turned into an annual event.

“Today we consecrate Juneteenth for what it ought to be, what it must be, a national holiday,” Biden said in the East Room of the White House.

At the podium, Steve Williams, president of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation.

“This is a day of profound weight and profound power, a day in which we remember the moral stain, the terrible toll that slavery took on the country and continues to take,” he added.

A short time later, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management tweeted that most federal employees will observe the new holiday — Juneteenth National Independence Day — on Friday since June 19 falls on a Saturday this year.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan both announced that all state and city government agencies and offices will be closed Friday in honor of Juneteenth.

In Virginia, Juneteenth was made a state holiday last year. Congress approved earlier this week a bill to make Juneteenth the 12th federal holiday.

Sen. John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, who co-sponsored the legislation in the Senate. (Photo by Dan McCue)

At the ceremony, Biden called for passage of voting rights legislation, expected to come before the Senate next week, and also urged Americans to get vaccinated.

Joining him at the ceremony was Opal Lee, 94, the activist who is known as the “grandmother of the movement to make Juneteenth a federal holiday.”

He described how, on Juneteenth 1939, when Lee was 12 years old, a white mob torched her family home.

“Such hate never stopped her,” Biden said. “Over the course of decades she has made it her mission to see that this day came.”

Also with Biden as he signed the legislation in the East Room of the White, were members of the House and Senate, including a Republican, John Cornyn of Texas, who co-sponsored the legislation establishing the date as a federal holiday.

The House voted 415-14 on Wednesday to send the bill to Biden, while the Senate passed the bill unanimously the day before.

Juneteenth is the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was created in 1983.

As he signed the bill into law, Biden noted the overwhelming support for the bill from lawmakers in both parties.

“I hope this is the beginning of a change in the way we deal with one another,” Biden said.

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