WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden officially signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law on Thursday, making June 19 a federal holiday.
The House passed the bill on a 415-14 on Wednesday after the Senate cleared the bill without much debate. All 14 votes came from Republicans who opposed the bill in the House of Representatives.
Vice President Kamala Harris, the first woman and Black vice president, said this bill becoming law is “an important statement.”
These are days when we as a nation have decided to stop and take stock. And often to acknowledge our history,” Harris said.
Juneteenth is also known as Emancipation Day, Black Independence Day and Jubilee Day. It marks the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was signed into law back in 1983.
“Juneteenth marks both a long, hard night of slavery and subjugation and the promise of a brighter morning to come,” Biden said. “This is a day, in my view, of profound weight and profound power. A day in which we remember the moral stain, terrible toll that slavery took on the country and continues to take.”
Juneteenth celebrates the end of slavery and highlights the moment when Union Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865 to inform enslaved African Americans that the Civil War had ended.
The date is already celebrated as a state or ceremonial holiday in 47 states with Texas becoming the first state to recognize it as a state holiday back in 1980.
“Think about that: for more than two years, the enslaved people of Texas were kept in servitude. For more than two years, they were intentionally kept from their freedom,” Harris said.
Thursday’s ceremony at the White House was attended by 80 members of Congress, local elected officials, and community leaders and activists. Among the guests was R&B singer Usher, who posed for photos after the signing.
The new holiday will take effect immediately. Since June 19 falls on a Saturday this year, most federal employees will observe the holiday on Friday, June 18.
However, Thursday was a historic day at the White House. Biden acknowledged the moment and said it would go down as one of the greatest honors he’s had to do.
“I think this will go down for me one of the greatest honors I have had as president,” Biden said.
Biden signing the bill into law comes Congress remains bitterly divided over how to address recent legislation in GOP controlled states and districts. School boards nationwide are at odds on how to teach children about racism with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signing a bill into law that restricts public school teachers from teaching children about racism.