Biden Signs Bill Making Juneteenth a Federal Holiday

June 17, 2021 Updated: June 17, 2021

President Joe Biden on June 17 signed legislation making June 19, or Juneteenth, a federal holiday after the bill was approved by both chambers of Congress.

“Juneteenth marks both the long, hard night of slavery and subjugation, and the promise of a brighter morning to come,” Biden said before signing the bill.

“This is a day of profound—in my view—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. What I have long called America’s original sin.

“At the same time, I also remember the extraordinary capacity to heal and to hope and to emerge from the painful moments in a bitter, bitter version of ourselves, to make a better version of ourselves.”

The bill inserts “Juneteenth National Independence Day” onto the slate of federal holidays. It was approved by the Senate with no objection on June 15. The House of Representatives passed it 415–14 on June 16.

June 19, 1865, marks the day when slaves in Galveston, Texas, learned of their freedom in the United States.

“Freedom was granted through the Emancipation Proclamation signed on January 1, 1863, by President Abraham Lincoln,” according to the National Park Service. “Texas was the farthest of the Confederate states, and slaveholders there made no attempt to free the enslaved African Americans they held in bondage. This meant that President Lincoln’s proclamation was unenforceable without military intervention, which eventually came nearly 2.5 years later.”

Most federal employees this year will observe the new holiday on June 18, since June 19 falls on a weekend, White House officials said.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), who has for years attempted to get the holiday federalized, told colleagues on the House floor this week that it “has been a long journey.” In a written statement, she applauded fellow members for passing the bill.

“Juneteenth is as significant to African Americans as July 4 is to all Americans,” she said.

The legislation drew bipartisan support, and some prominent Republicans outside Congress signaled support.

“Juneteenth isn’t some ‘woke’ new holiday invented by the left,” Kay C. James, the Heritage Foundation president, said on Twitter, adding that the day “is worthy of celebration by all Americans.”

The small number of House members who voted against the bill disagreed.

“Let’s call an ace an ace. This is an effort by the left to create a day out of whole cloth to celebrate identity politics as part of its larger efforts to make critical race theory the reigning ideology of our country. Since I believe in treating everyone equally, regardless of race, and that we should be focused on what unites us rather than our differences, I will vote no,” said Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.), adding that he believes the effort was tied to enshrining the racial history of the United States as the prime aspect of the American story.

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