Biden makes ‘Juneteenth National Independence Day’ a federal holiday

President Joe Biden signed a law Thursday to make ‘Juneteenth National Independence Day’ a federal holiday.  

‘Juneteenth marks both the long, hard night of slavery and subjugation and a promise of a brighter morning to come,’ Biden said at the White House signing ceremony, surrounded by Democratic and Republican guests. ‘This is a day of profound weight and profound power, a day in which we remember the moral stain and the terrible toll that slavery took on the country – and continues to take.’

On Wednesday night, the House of Representatives passed the bill with 14 Republicans voting against it. In the Senate, it passed by unanimous consent.  

President Joe Biden signed a law that makes Juneteenth, June 19 - the date that marked the official end of slavery in the U.S. - a federal holiday

President Joe Biden signed a law that makes Juneteenth, June 19 - the date that marked the official end of slavery in the U.S. - a federal holiday

President Joe Biden signed a law that makes Juneteenth, June 19 – the date that marked the official end of slavery in the U.S. – a federal holiday

Juneteenth activist Opal Lee was recognized by President Joe Biden at the White House celebration where the president made Juneteenth a federal holiday

Juneteenth activist Opal Lee was recognized by President Joe Biden at the White House celebration where the president made Juneteenth a federal holiday

Juneteenth activist Opal Lee was recognized by President Joe Biden at the White House celebration where the president made Juneteenth a federal holiday 

Vice President Kamala Harris (right) gave opening remarks Thursday as the White House celebrated the passage of the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act

Vice President Kamala Harris (right) gave opening remarks Thursday as the White House celebrated the passage of the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act

Vice President Kamala Harris (right) gave opening remarks Thursday as the White House celebrated the passage of the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act 

President Joe Biden signs into law the bill that makes Juneteenth a national holiday, surrounded by lawmakers and activist Opal Lee (second from left)

President Joe Biden signs into law the bill that makes Juneteenth a national holiday, surrounded by lawmakers and activist Opal Lee (second from left)

President Joe Biden signs into law the bill that makes Juneteenth a national holiday, surrounded by lawmakers and activist Opal Lee (second from left) 

‘I’m especially pleased that we showed that nation that we can come together as Democrats and Republicans to commemorate this day with the overwhelming bipartisan support in Congress,’ Biden said.  

This year Juneteenth will be observed Friday as the actual day that slavery ended in the United States – June 19 – falls on a Saturday. 

Biden spoke about how personally excited he was to be the president to sign the bill – creating the first federal holiday in nearly four decades. 

‘As I was walking down I regret my grandchildren aren’t here becausae this is a really, really, really important moment in our history,’ he remarked. 

‘I have to say to you, I’ve only been president for several months, but I think this will go down for me as one of the highest honors I will have had as president,’ he told the audience.  

Biden heralded the appearance at the White House of 94-year-old Opal Lee, a Texas-born woman known as the ‘Grandmother of Juneteenth,’ who singlehandedly put the holiday on many Americans’ radars. 

‘She told me she loved me and I believed it, I wanted to believe it,’ Biden remarked about their meeting on the campaign trail. 

Lee was seated in the front row – and Biden went down to see her at the top of the program – he later gave her the first pen when he signed the bill making it federal law. 

He had the audience give her a standing ovation.  

‘Great nations don’t ignore their most painful moments,’ Biden said. ‘They embrace them. Great nations don’t walk away. We comes to terms with the mistakes we make. And remembering those moments, we begin to heal and grow stronger.’ 

‘To honor the true meaning of Juneteenth we need to continue toward that promise because we’ve not gotten there yet,’ the president continued. 

President Joe Biden shows off the signed law making Juneteenth a national holiday at a White House ceremony in the East Room Thursday

President Joe Biden shows off the signed law making Juneteenth a national holiday at a White House ceremony in the East Room Thursday

President Joe Biden shows off the signed law making Juneteenth a national holiday at a White House ceremony in the East Room Thursday 

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke at an East Room ceremony at the White House Thursday

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke at an East Room ceremony at the White House Thursday

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke at an East Room ceremony at the White House Thursday 

He then talked about the strides he wanted to make in housing, getting capital for black entrepreneurs, universal pre-K and protecting the right to vote. 

‘Folks the promise of equality is not going to be fulfilled until it becomes real in our schools and on our main streets and our neighborhoods,’ Biden argued. ‘And it’s not going to become fulfilled as long as the sacred right to vote remains under attack.’

Vice President Kamala Harris introduced Biden and also talked about how the country still needed to push for racial equality.  

We are gathered here in a house built by enslaved people. We are footsetps away from where President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. And we are here to witness President Joe Biden establish Juneteenth as a national holiday,’ she said. 

‘We have come so far. And we have far to go,’ the vice president, the first woman of color to serve in the position, told the audience.  

She called Juneteenth a ‘day of celebration’ while adding ‘it’s also a day for us to eaffirm and rededicate ourselves to action.’  

‘So 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 said.  

‘And with that I say, Happy Juneteenth everybody!’ Harris said. 

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus were in the audience, as well as the musician Usher.  

Usher talks to President Joe Biden's guests at the White House Thursday as Juneteenth becomes a national holiday

Usher talks to President Joe Biden's guests at the White House Thursday as Juneteenth becomes a national holiday

Usher talks to President Joe Biden’s guests at the White House Thursday as Juneteenth becomes a national holiday 

Squad members, Reps. Ilhan Omar (center left) and Ayanna Pressley (center right) talk to the musician Usher at the White House Thursday marking Juneteenth becoming a national holiday

Squad members, Reps. Ilhan Omar (center left) and Ayanna Pressley (center right) talk to the musician Usher at the White House Thursday marking Juneteenth becoming a national holiday

Squad members, Reps. Ilhan Omar (center left) and Ayanna Pressley (center right) talk to the musician Usher at the White House Thursday marking Juneteenth becoming a national holiday 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (center) hands over the bill with South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn and members of the Congressional Black Caucus during a bill enrollment ceremony for the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (center) hands over the bill with South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn and members of the Congressional Black Caucus during a bill enrollment ceremony for the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (center) hands over the bill with South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn and members of the Congressional Black Caucus during a bill enrollment ceremony for the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act 

Rep. Ilhan Omar (right) watches as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi makes remarks at Thursday's enrollment ceremony of the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act

Rep. Ilhan Omar (right) watches as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi makes remarks at Thursday's enrollment ceremony of the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act

Rep. Ilhan Omar (right) watches as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi makes remarks at Thursday’s enrollment ceremony of the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act

Earlier, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, surrounded by members of the Congressional Black Caucus, celebrated the passage of the bill at an enrollment ceremony Thursday morning on Capitol Hill. 

‘This step is important obviously to the Congressional Black Caucus, but this is an important step for America as we ensure that one of the most momentous events in our history finally takes its official place of honor in our nation,’ Pelosi said. 

Former CBC Chair, Rep. G.K. Butterfield then led the group in singing, ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing.’ 

Squad member, Rep. Cori Bush, declared Wednesday evening that black Americans need reparations and other policies that move them toward ‘Black liberation’ now that the Juneteenth bill has passed.  

THE 14 HOUSE REPUBLICANS WHO VOTED AGAINST JUNETEENTH OVER CONFLICTS WITH JULY 4

Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona

Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama

Rep. Andrew Clyde of Georgia

Rep. Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee

Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona

Rep. Ronny Jackson of Texas

Rep. Doug LaMalfa of California

Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky

Rep. Tom McClintock of California

Rep. Ralph Norman of South Carolina

Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama

Rep. Matt Rosendale of Montana

Rep. Chip Roy of Texas

Rep. Tom Tiffany of Wisconsin

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‘It’s Juneteenth AND reparations. It’s Juneteenth AND end police violence + the War on Drugs. It’s Juneteenth AND end housing + education apartheid. It’s Juneteenth AND teach the truth about white supremacy in our country,’ she wrote in a tweet Wednesday night. ‘Black liberation in its totality must be prioritized,’ the Missouri Democrat encouraged.    

The fourteen House Republicans voted against the measure for June 19 to become a ‘National Independence Day’ because they believed it would create ‘confusion’ with Independence Day on July 4 and claimed the move was a bid from the left to push ‘identity politics’

Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie said: ‘I fully support creating a day to celebrate the abolition of slavery.

‘However, naming this day National Independence Day will create confusion and push Americans to pick one of those two days as their Independence Day based on their racial identity.’

Massie said he would rather it be called ‘Emancipation Day’. 

The measure cleared the Senate by unanimous consent Tuesday after a Republican in the chamber ended his objection. With the House passing it in a 415-14 vote, the bill now heads to President Joe Biden for his signature.

President Biden is set to sign the bill later on Thursday at an event with vice president Kamala Harris. 

Rep. Matt Rosendale of Montana said an effort by the left’ to push ‘identity politics’. 

‘Let’s call an ace an ace,’ the lawmaker said on Wednesday. ‘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”. 

Texas Rep. Chip Roy agreed with Massie that the day should be called ‘Emancipation Day’ and said the new holiday is going to be seen as conflicting’ with July 4.

‘It’s been referred to in our history as Jubilee Day, Emancipation Day, Freedom Day. I would be amenable to any of those names. I don’t believe that the title National Independence Day, I think, works.

Texas Rep. Ronnie Jackson told USA Today the country already had ‘enough’ national holidays. 

Louisiana Rep Clay Higgins also said on the floor that it should be called ‘National Emancipation Day’.  

Most US states recognize Juneteenth as a holiday or officially observe the day, but the bill passed by Congress would make Juneteenth the 12th US federal holiday — and the first new one in 38 years. 

The commemoration has taken on renewed resonance over the past year with millions of Americans confronting the country’s living legacy of racial injustice.

The House of Representatives has voted to make Juneteenth a federal holiday to mark the end of slavery. Rep Shelia Jackson Lee announced the bill passed on Wednesday night

Texas Rep. Chip Roy said the day should be called 'Emancipation Day' and said the new holiday is going to be seen as conflicting' with July 4.

Texas Rep. Chip Roy said the day should be called 'Emancipation Day' and said the new holiday is going to be seen as conflicting' with July 4.

Texas Rep. Chip Roy said the day should be called ‘Emancipation Day’ and said the new holiday is going to be seen as conflicting’ with July 4.

‘Juneteenth is as significant to African Americans as it will be to Americans because we too are Americans, and it means freedom,’ House Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee told her colleagues, describing slavery as ‘America’s original sin.’

Juneteenth National Independence Day is commemorated on June 19 to celebrate the day in 1865 when the last enslaved African Americans learned that they were free.

Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie said: 'I fully support creating a day to celebrate the abolition of slavery. 'However, naming this day National Independence Day will create confusion and push Americans to pick one of those two days as their Independence Day based on their racial identity.'

Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie said: 'I fully support creating a day to celebrate the abolition of slavery. 'However, naming this day National Independence Day will create confusion and push Americans to pick one of those two days as their Independence Day based on their racial identity.'

Texas Rep. Ronny Jackson said the US already has enough federal holidays

Texas Rep. Ronny Jackson said the US already has enough federal holidays

Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie (left) said: ‘I fully support creating a day to celebrate the abolition of slavery. ‘However, naming this day National Independence Day will create confusion and push Americans to pick one of those two days as their Independence Day based on their racial identity.’ Texas Rep. Ronny Jackson (right) said the US already has enough federal holidays

Thousands of people participate in a march for Black Lives Matter and to commemorate the 155th anniversary of Juneteenth in New York City last June

Thousands of people participate in a march for Black Lives Matter and to commemorate the 155th anniversary of Juneteenth in New York City last June

Thousands of people participate in a march for Black Lives Matter and to commemorate the 155th anniversary of Juneteenth in New York City last June

A Union Army general in Galveston, Texas — where president Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1862 had yet to be enforced nearly three years later — announced that slavery was abolished in Texas and across the country.

‘This day reminds us of a history much stained by brutality and injustice, and it reminds us of our responsibility to build a future of progress for all, honoring the ideal of equality that is America’s heritage, and America’s hope,’ House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.

Lawmakers broke into applause and cheers when the bill passed.

Jackson Lee, who represents a Texas district, and the state’s senior US Senator John Cornyn, a Republican, will be in Galveston on Juneteenth to mark the historic occasion.

The bill is sponsored by Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Edward Markey and had 60 co-sponsors. Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn and Texas Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee were other leaders in the effort. 

Demonstrators arrive at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial during a Juneteenth march in Washington, DC on June 19, 2020

Demonstrators arrive at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial during a Juneteenth march in Washington, DC on June 19, 2020

Demonstrators arrive at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial during a Juneteenth march in Washington, DC on June 19, 2020

'This day reminds us of a history much stained by brutality and injustice, and it reminds us of our responsibility to build a future of progress for all, honoring the ideal of equality that is America's heritage, and America's hope,' House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said

'This day reminds us of a history much stained by brutality and injustice, and it reminds us of our responsibility to build a future of progress for all, honoring the ideal of equality that is America's heritage, and America's hope,' House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said

‘This day reminds us of a history much stained by brutality and injustice, and it reminds us of our responsibility to build a future of progress for all, honoring the ideal of equality that is America’s heritage, and America’s hope,’ House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said

‘There’s no better time than the present, particularly given the strife we’ve seen, the level of distrust, for example, between law enforcement and the communities they serve, than to acknowledge our nation’s history and to learn from it,’ Cornyn told reporters.

‘Acknowledging and learning from the mistakes of the past is critical to making that progress and becoming a more perfect union.’

Texas made Juneteenth a state holiday in 1980, with every state except South Dakota officially commemorating the holiday in some capacity since. 

Democrats and Republicans have struggled to unite on legislative issues in recent months and years, with political divisions impacted by debates over race, immigration and other social issues. 

On Twitter Tuesday, many celebrated the progress being made towards declaring Juneteenth as a national holiday.

‘Juneteenth should absolutely be a federal holiday,’ tweeted Kentucky State Rep. Charles Booker.

Other people, however, expressed conflicted feelings about the holiday receiving federal recognition.

‘I have mixed feelings about making Juneteenth a federal holiday. It’s probably a good thing, but I refuse to get too excited about something that doesn’t fundamentally change the status quo. A game changer is passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Act,’ said former Speaker of the Colorado House Terrance Carroll.

‘So the senate passed the bill to make Juneteenth a federal holiday but they still haven’t made lynching a federal hate crime? Got it,’ said another person.

JUNE 19TH, 1865: THE DAY THE CONFEDERATE ARMY SURRENDERED AND A UNION GENERAL FREED THE LAST SLAVES IN TEXAS

Juneteenth, an annual U.S. holiday on June 19, has taken on greater significance following nationwide protests over police brutality and the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks and other African Americans.

WHAT IS JUNETEENTH? Juneteenth, a portmanteau of June and 19th, also is known as Emancipation Day. It commemorates the day in 1865, after the Confederate states surrendered to end the Civil War, when a Union general arrived in Texas to inform the last group of enslaved African Americans of their freedom under President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation. 

In 1980, Texas officially declared it a holiday. It is now recognized in 46 other states and the District of Columbia. Although in part a celebration, the day is also observed solemnly to honor those who suffered during slavery in the United States with the arrival of the first enslaved Africans over 400 years ago.

WHAT MADE IT MORE SIGNIFICANT LAST YEAR? Last year, Juneteenth coincided with global protests against racial injustice sparked by the May 25, 2020 death of Floyd, a black man, in Minneapolis police custody. 

It also accompanied the coronavirus outbreak, which disproportionately affected communities of color. U.S. President Donald Trump, who had already been under fire for his response to both crises, drew further criticism for scheduling a re-election rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He since moved it to the next day. 

Tulsa is an important and especially sensitive site where a white mob massacred African-American residents in 1921. Community organizations nationwide devoted the day to discussions on policing and civil rights ahead of the November election.

HOW DID PEOPLE MARK THE DAY? People marked the 155th anniversary across the country with festive meals and gatherings. While many cities canceled annual parades because of the pandemic, other groups opted for virtual conferences or smaller events. 

In Washington, groups planed marches, protests and rallies. Amid the wave of racial justice protests, some U.S. businesses committed to a change of policies, including recognition of the holiday. 

Among the companies that announced they will recognize Juneteenth as a paid company holiday are the National Football League, The New York Times, Twitter and Square. 

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