Juneteenth, commemorating the end of slavery in the United States, is officially a federal holiday.
President Biden signed a bill Thursday formally designating June 19th as Juneteenth.
The holiday commemorates the day in 1865 when slaves in Texas finally got word the Civil War had ended and they were freed, two months after the Confederacy surrendered.
“Juneteenth marks both a long, hard night of slavery and subjugation and a promise of a brighter morning to come,” Biden said. “Great nations don’t ignore their most painful moments. 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. And remembering those moments, we begin to heal and grow stronger,” he added.
On June 19, 1865, Union Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, and informed enslaved African Americans that the Civil War was over and that they were freed by Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, signed two years earlier.
Granger arrived in Galveston two months after Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered at the Battle of Appomattox Court House in Virginia. But soldiers in Texas — a Confederate state — didn’t lay down arms until weeks after Lee’s surrender.
“When we establish a national holiday, it makes an important statement. National holidays are something important,” Vice President Kamala Harris said. “These are days when we as a nation have decided to stop and take stock, and often to acknowledge our history.
“As we commemorate the history of Juneteenth, as we did just weeks ago with the history of the Tulsa race massacre, we must learn from our history and we must teach our children our history, because it is part of our history as a nation. It is part of American history,” she added.
Both Biden and Harris noted racial disparities still exist in the U.S. when it comes to education, housing and voting rights and vowed to work towards equality.
Since the 19th falls on a Saturday this year, most federal employees will observe the holiday tomorrow, June 18th, according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.
The New York Stock Exchange will remain open, but officials said they’re considering closing markets in honor of the holiday next year.
Juneteenth is first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was created in 1983.
The Senate voted unanimously in favor of the holiday. But 14 Republican members of the House opposed the bill, with some arguing the designation will be divisive.
Most states already recognize Juneteenth as a holiday or observe the day in some capacity. It’s a paid holiday for state employees in Texas, Virginia, Washington and New York, as of last year.
Gov. Cuomo signed a bill in October designating Juneteenth as an official public holiday following civil unrest over racism and police brutality that engulfed the nation with the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
After vowing to do the same for city workers, a similar proposal from Mayor de Blasio never panned out.
State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) said the federal recognition of the day means a lot to African-Americans, but noted the country has a long way to go.
“The Juneteenth holiday is a reminder of our past and a celebration of freedom,” she said. “It recognizes the day when the last enslaved African Americans in the Confederacy were informed about their emancipation.
“As we enjoy this festive day, we also recognize that there is still progress to be made,” she added.
- Top Feature Photo: President Joe Biden in the East Room of the White House on May 20, 2021 in Washington, DC – Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images