Biden signs Juneteenth bill into law, creating new federal holiday

Washington: US President Joe Biden on Thursday (local time) signed legislation establishing June 19 as Juneteenth National Independence Day — a US federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States and said it will go down as “one of the greatest honors” of his presidency.

signed into law the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, turning the oldest celebration of the abolition of slavery in the U.S. into the country’s newest national holiday.

“Great nations don’t ignore their most painful moments … they embrace them. Great nations don’t walk away, they come to terms with the mistakes they’ve made. In remembering those moments, we begin to heal and grow stronger,” Biden said at a signing ceremony at the White House attended by Vice President Harris, members of the Congressional Black Caucus and other lawmakers, the Hill reported.

“The truth is, it’s simply not enough to commemorate Juneteenth. After all, the emancipation of enslaved Black Americans didn’t mark the end of America’s work to deliver on the promise of equality, it only marked the beginning. To honor the true meaning of Juneteenth, we have to continue towards that promise because we have not gotten there yet,” the President added.

The signing came after the Senate and House passed the legislation in lopsided votes on consecutive days to get it to Biden’s desk before this year’s Juneteenth, which is Saturday.

The President specifically noted that Opal Lee, the activist who campaigned to establish Juneteenth as a federal holiday, was in attendance.

Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union Major General Gordon Granger announced the end of slavery in Galveston, Texas, in accordance with President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation. Only a handful of states currently observe Juneteenth as a paid holiday.

The last time a federal holiday was established was in 1983, when then-President Reagan signed a bill to create Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which was first observed in 1986.

The US Office of Personnel Management announced Thursday that most federal employees will observe the holiday on Friday since Juneteenth falls on a Saturday this year.

The legislation, which was passed by Congress on Wednesday (local time), gained momentum following Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd last year. It was also spurred after Democrats won the White House and control of the House of Representatives and the US Senate.

The bill passed the House with a 415-14 vote after the Senate unanimously passed the legislation the day before. The bill had bipartisan sponsors that included Democratic Representative Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas and Democratic Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts.

Addressing to media, Lee ahead of the final passage of the bill said: “What I see here today is racial divide crumbling, being crushed this day under a momentous vote that brings together people who understand the value of freedom.”

While 14 Republicans voted against the bill. Wisconsin Republican Senator Ron Johnson had previously blocked the bill in 2020, saying that the day off for federal employees would cost US taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. But Johnson dropped his objection this week despite his concerns, which paved the way for the bill’s passage in the Senate