President Joe Biden signed a bill Thursday afternoon making Juneteenth a federal holiday, commemorating the end of slavery in the United States, just in time for Saturday’s June 19 anniversary.
A jubilant Vice President Kamala Harris, the nation’s first Black vice president, who co-sponsored the legislation when she served in the Senate, spoke about the significance of the moment, noting slaves helped build the White House.
“Throughout history, Juneteenth has been known by many names: Jubilee Day. Freedom Day. Liberation Day. Emancipation Day. And today, a national holiday,” Harris said, to cheers and applause in the White House East Room filled with about 80 lawmakers and other guests.
Biden then spoke, calling Juneteenth a day of “profound weight and profound power….in which we remember the moral stain that the terrible toll that slavery took on the country and continues to take, what I have long called America’s original sin.”
The federal government said most employees will be off this Friday to mark the occasion.
Juneteenth is celebrated on June 19 to mark the day in 1865 when Black slaves in Galveston, Texas, were among the last to be told they had been freed — a full two-and-a-half years after the Emancipation Proclamation and two months after the Civil War officially ended.
Though advocates have worked for decades to make Juneteenth a national holiday, even succeeding at the state level everywhere but South Dakota, it took Congress only two days to pass the legislation once one Republican senator, Sen. Ron Johnson, who blocked the move last year, dropped his opposition.
The bill then passed the Senate by unanimous consent on Tuesday before passing the House Wednesday night in a 415-14 vote, with all opposition coming from GOP members.
Juneteenth is the first new holiday created by Congress in nearly 40 years, when lawmakers in 1983 designated Martin Luther King Jr. Day as the third Monday in January to memorialize the assassinated civil rights leader.
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