President Joe Biden signed a bill to establish Juneteenth as a federal holiday on Thursday, June 17, just two days before the day to commemorate the end of slavery comes.
The Juneteenth National Independence Day Act becomes law one year after Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) introduced such a bill in the House and the Senate respectively, but it sat dormant, according to The Hill.
The legislation was reintroduced to both chambers in February but only gained traction this week. The Senate approved the bill by unanimous consent on Tuesday, sending it to the House where it was passed on Wednesday though 14 Republican lawmakers voted against it.
Juneteenth, also known as Jubilee, Emancipation, or Freedom Day, falls on June 19, which marks the day in 1865 when Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger of the Union Army informed the remaining enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, that they were freed by the Emancipation Proclamation.
Speaking in the signing ceremony at the White House, President Biden said that Juneteenth marks both the long, hard night of slavery and subjugation, and a promise of a brighter morning to come.
“Today, we consecrate Juneteenth for what it ought to be, what it must be: a national holiday,” Biden said.
By making Juneteenth a federal holiday, Biden said that all Americans can feel the power of the day, and learn from the history, and celebrate progress, and grapple with the distance they have come but the distance they have to travel.
“Great nations don’t ignore their most painful moments. They don’t ignore those moments of the past. They embrace them. Great nations don’t walk away. We come to terms with the mistakes we’ve made. And in remembering those moments, we begin to heal and grow stronger,” Biden said.
“The truth is, it’s not— simply not enough just to commemorate Juneteenth. After all, the emancipation of enslaved Black Americans didn’t mark the end of America’s work to deliver on the promise of equality; it only marked the beginning. To honor the true meaning of Juneteenth, we have to continue towards that promise because we have not gotten there yet,” the president continued.
Juneteenth is the 12th federal holiday in the United States. According to The Hill, the last time a federal holiday was established was in 1983, when then-President Reagan signed into law a bill to create Martin Luther King Jr. Day.