President Joe Biden signed a bill on Thursday that officially established Juneteenth as the first new federal holiday in nearly four decades.
According to CNN, before President Biden took to the podium to sign the bill into law, Vice President Kamala Harris gave remarks to the people in attendance. “These are days when we as a nation have decided to stop and take stock. And often to acknowledge our history,” Harris said
She then introduced President Biden, who also gave remarks before signing the bill. “Juneteenth marks both a long, hard night of slavery and a promise of a brighter morning to come. This is a day of profound wait and profound power. A day which you’ll remember the moral stain, the terrible toll that slavery took on the country and continues to take,” Biden said. “What I’ve long called America’s original sin.”
Biden also spoke about his administration’s efforts to increase Black homeownership, create better access to loans for Black entrepreneurs, and combating the efforts by various GOP-led states to suppress access to voting in Black communities.
He also noted that in attendance was Opal Lee, the 94-year-old activist who has fought to make Juneteenth a holiday for most of her life. “Over the course of decades, she’s made it her mission to see that this day came. It was almost a singular mission. She’s walked for miles and miles literally and figuratively to bring attention to Juneteenth,” Biden said.
Juneteenth is intended to celebrate June 19, 1865, when a Union general arrived in Galveston, Texas, and informed the enslaved Black people there that were free. As Vice President Harris noted in her remarks, this was two years after the Emancipation Proclamation had already granted them their freedom under law.
The signing came after the House voted 415-14 on Wednesday to make Juneteenth a holiday after the bill passed through the Senate the day before in a bipartisan vote. This the first federal holiday to be established since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1983.
It’s great that Juneteenth is becoming a nationally recognized holiday, especially since, let’s be real, a large chunk of us didn’t understand the significance of Juneteenth until the events of last summer. That being said, as news editor for The Root Monique Judge rightly pointed out on Twitter, it doesn’t mean much if we have states passing laws that would essentially ban teaching why Juneteenth is a holiday in the first place.