President Joe Biden signs the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, in the East Room of the White House in Washington on June 17, 2021. From left, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.), Opal Lee, Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.), obscured, Vice President Kamala Harris, House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio), Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas). (Evan Vucci/AP Photo)
“Juneteenth marks both the long, hard night of slavery and subjugation, and the promise of a brighter morning to come. This is a day of profound—in my view—profound weight and profound power. A day in which we remember the moral stain, the terrible toll that slavery took on the country and continues to take. What I have long called America’s original sin,” Biden said in remarks offered before signing the bill.
“At the same time, I also remember the extraordinary capacity to heal and to hope and to emerge from the painful moments in a bitter, bitter version of ourselves, to make a better version of ourselves,” he added.
The bill inserts “Juneteenth National Independence Day,” or June 19, onto the slate of federal holidays. It was passed by the Senate with no objection on Tuesday. The House of Representatives passed it 415-14 on Wednesday.
Juneteenth marks the day when slaves in Galveston, Texas, learned of their freedom from slavery in the United States.
“Freedom was granted through the Emancipation Proclamation signed on January 1, 1863, by President Abraham Lincoln. Texas was the farthest of the Confederate states, and slaveholders there made no attempt to free the enslaved African Americans they held in bondage. This meant that President Lincoln’s proclamation was unenforceable without military intervention, which eventually came nearly 2.5 years later,” according to the National Parks Service.
Most federal employees will observe the new holiday on June 18 since June 19 this year is on a weekend, White House officials said.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), who has for years attempted to get the holiday federalized, told colleagues on the House floor this week that it “has been a long journey.” In a written statement, she applauded fellow members for passing the bill.
“Juneteenth is as significant to African Americans as July 4 is to all Americans,” she said.
The legislation drew bipartisan support, and some prominent Republicans outside Congress signaled support.
“Juneteenth isn’t some ‘woke’ new holiday invented by the left,” Kay James, the Heritage Foundation president, said on Twitter, adding that the day “is worthy of celebration by all Americans.”
The small number of House members who voted against the bill disagreed.
“Let’s call an ace an ace. This is an effort by the Left to create a day out of whole cloth to celebrate identity politics as part of its larger efforts to make Critical Race Theory the reigning ideology of our country. Since I believe in treating everyone equally, regardless of race, and that we should be focused on what unites us rather than our differences, I will vote no,” said Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.), adding that he believed the effort was tied to enshrining the racial history of the United States as the prime aspect of the American story.