Things That Matter

President Biden Signs Bill Making Juneteenth An Official Federal Holiday

For the first time since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was made a federal holiday in 1983, the U.S. has received another major holiday marking the official end of slavery in the U.S. on Juneteenth. On Thursday, President Biden – surrounded by civil rights advocates and Vice President Harris – signed into law the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act.

Biden, in what he called “one of the greatest honors” of his presidency, signed the bill two days before Juneteenth itself, which is on June 19 each year.

Juneteenth is officially a U.S. federal holiday after being signed into law by President Biden.

President Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law, officially making June 19 a federal holiday and giving national recognition to a day commemorating emancipation.

“Juneteenth marks both a long, hard night of slavery and subjugation and the promise of a brighter morning to come,” Biden said during a signing ceremony at the White House. “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.”

“We have come far, and we have far to go. But today is a day of celebration,” said Vice President Kamala Harris, who spoke before the president at the signing event in the White House.

“Great nations don’t ignore their most painful moments,” Biden told the East Room crowd, which included dozens of politicians, activists and community leaders. “They embrace them.”

Although the holiday will be observed for the roughly two million employees of the federal government, it is unclear how many states or private employers will recognize the holiday.

The bill was passed by both the House and Senate just days earlier.

On Wednesday, the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly (415-14) to make Juneteenth a national federal holiday, a day after the Senate unanimously approved the bill without debate. The only votes against the bill in the House came from Republicans, many citing concerns over the name of the holiday and whether it conflates with the July 4th holiday.

The date is already celebrated as a state or ceremonial holiday in 47 states and the District of Columbia. Texas became the first to make it a state holiday in 1980.

Juneteenth celebrates the emancipation of the last enslaved African Americans.

Juneteenth celebrates the emancipation of the last enslaved African Americans. On that day in 1865, Union soldiers led by Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in the coastal city of Galveston, Texas, to deliver General Order No. 3, officially ending slavery in the state. The final act of liberation came months after the Confederate army’s surrender ended the Civil War, and more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

“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. The 13th Amendment was ratified a few months later in December of 1865, formally abolishing slavery in the United States.

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