- Biden signs a law from Juniteenth that gives federal employees the day off for the new holiday
- Vice President Kamala Harris, Opal Lee, key lawmakers flanked President Biden as he signed
- Juniteenth is mainly observed on Fridays this year
- Holiday marks the day enslaved people in Galveston, Texas learned of the Emancipation Proclamation
WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden signed a bill on Thursday for Juniteenth, a federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in Confederate states.
“This will be considered one of the greatest honors I will have as President,” said Biden.
The President signed the Juniteenth National Independence Day Act in the East Room of the White House, accompanied by Vice President Kamala Harris and key lawmakers in swiftly passing the bill.
“We have come a long way and we still have a long way to go, but today is a day of celebration,” said Harris.
Harris, the nation’s first black vice president, also noted the importance of the location where the law was signed. “We are gathered here in a house that was built by enslaved people,” she said.
And Biden praised the country’s newest holiday as a way to heal centuries-old divisions and bring about racial justice. “Big nations don’t ignore their most painful moments, they hug them,” said Biden. “When we remember these moments, we begin to heal and become stronger.”
Vacation for federal workers
The law went into effect immediately after Biden was signed, which means federal employees will be allowed to observe the opportunity before Saturday. “Since the 19th falls on a Saturday, most federal employees will celebrate the holiday tomorrow, June 18th,” the US Department of Human Resources wrote in a tweet.
Juneteenth marks the day enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, were informed of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1865.
While President Abraham Lincoln delivered his proclamation to free all enslaved people in rebel states in 1862, Confederate troops and slaveholders in breakaway states did not keep the proclamation until Union forces arrived to free the enslaved people, the last of whom were in Galveston.
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Long-observed among black Americans, Juniteenth has grown in prominence in recent years as racial justice movements increased interest in the holiday and more states and cities passed laws commemorating emancipation.
Quick access to the House and Senate
The bill was passed unanimously by the Senate and reached near consensus in the House of Representatives, with 14 Republican lawmakers voting against the bill.
“By making Juniteenth a federal holiday, we recognize, address, teach, and learn from the sins of the past as we work toward a more perfect union,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a press conference after the Senate passed the bill.
“It will be the only federal holiday that recognizes the terrible legacy of slavery and the noble truth that none of us is free until we are all free,” the majority leader continued.
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“There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come. And it seems to me that this is the most opportune time for us to see our history and learn from it, ”said Senator John Cornyn, R-Texas, in remarks about the bill’s signing.
Cornyn noted that Juneteenth has been a public holiday in Texas since 1980 and that the new federal holiday has special significance in the country as it deals with its history and ongoing issues of race and freedom.
“But I believe there is no better time than the present, especially given the disputes we have witnessed, such as the distrust between law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve as recognizing and learning from our nation’s history. “Corny continued.
Follow Matthew Brown online at @mrbrownsir.