Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery in the United States, is now officially a federal holiday. President Biden signed into law on Thursday a bill passed by Congress designating June 19th as Juneteenth National Independence Day.
The Juneteenth holiday originated when on June 19, 1865, Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, bearing the news to enslaved people that slavery had ended — nearly two-and-a-half years after Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. Texas had remained a holdout of the Confederacy, and upon arrival, Union Major General Gordon Granger issued General Order No. 3, which stated, in part: “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.” The first Juneteenth celebration took place a year later.
“We have come far, and we have far to go. But today is a day of celebration,” said Vice President Kamala Harris at the bill signing, speaking before the president. “It is not only a day of pride but a day to rededicate ourselves to action.”
“Great nations don’t ignore their painful moments past,” Biden said. “They don’t ignore those moments in the past. They embrace them. Great nations don’t walk away. We come to terms with the mistakes we made.”
He added, “Juneteenth marks both a long, hard night of slavery and a promise of a brighter morning to come.”
The Senate passed the bill to create the holiday by unanimous consent. In the House, 14 Republicans voted against it, with some complaining about the name of the holiday while others claimed they did not want to give the federal government employees another day off. Juneteenth is the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King, Jr. day was added in 1983.