United States President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth bill on Thursday, officially making it a federal holiday which commemorates the freedom of slaves and offers federal employees a day off beginning this Friday.
Biden said the signing of the bill would go down as one of his greatest honors while serving as president of the U.S. The Democratic leader was in the East Room of the White House with Vice President Kamala Harris when they signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act.
Harris expressed her belief of how far the country has come and how much farther is needed to be reached but noted the event was a momentous occasion for all Americans to be celebrated. The vice president became the first Black vice president when she won the 2020 elections. She said the legislation's passing had major significance because the place where the bill was signed was in a building enslaved people built.
Juneteenth a Federal Holiday
After the signing of the bill, Biden said America's newest holiday supported centuries-old divisions and addressed racial injustice. The Democrat said great nations embraced their most painful moments instead of ignoring them. He said remembering those moments was the beginning of learning how to "heal and grow stronger," USA Today reported.
Since the passing of Martin Luther King Day in 1983, the Juneteenth bill marks the first new national holiday politicians have passed. Biden added the passing of the legislation into a federal holiday would help Americans understand the country's history and celebrate the progress that has been made.
On Thursday, the federal Office of Personnel Management announced most government employees would be observing the holiday on Friday despite June 19 falling on Saturday this year.
The name Juneteenth stems from the date June 19, 1865, when Maj. Gen. Gordon Grander announced the freedom of slaves in Galveston, Texas, following then-President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. Several months after, the 13th Amendment abolished slavery in the last three border states that have not yet been affected by Lincoln's order.
Representative Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas called the signing of the bill as a federal holiday was an acknowledgment of the original sin of slavery. The movement for the passing of the date as a federal holiday began last year when the Black Lives Matter demonstrations continued to call for justice after the death of George Floyd in the hands of a police officer, the New York Times reported.
Recognition of the Holiday
Before the signing of the bill, 49 states across the United States have already recognized Juneteenth as a state or ceremonial holiday. The last remaining state that has not yet done this was South Dakota. Then-Senator of Illinois Barack Obama co-sponsored the legislation to make Juneteenth a national holiday.
Many companies, including Nike, Uber, and Twitter, announced they would be giving their employees a day off for Juneteenth this year. Additionally, some governors in other states, including New York and Virginia, are also declaring the day a holiday for state employees, BBC reported.