Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. Its name is a coat rack of the date it is celebrated – celebrated annually on June 19 – and has been recognized by 45 states, to varying degrees.
It marks the anniversary of the date in 1865 when Union soldiers announced the end of slavery in the Gulf of Texas – about two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln’s famous Emancipation Proclamation.
“Think about it,” said Vice President Kamala Harris, the United States’ first black vice president. “For over two years, slaves in Texas were held in bondage. For over two years, they were intentionally deprived of their liberty.”
Ratification of the 13th Amendment officially abolished slavery several months later, in December 1865. June 10 was celebrated in black communities dating back to 1866, although it was not recognized by state governments for over a century.
Biden said it was essential that the United States not back down from the lessons of history, including the most shameful chapters, a message similar to the one he delivered less than a month ago at a ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre. .
“Great nations are not ignoring their most painful times,” he said. “Great nations are not going away. We accept the mistakes we made. And by remembering those times, we begin to heal and grow stronger.”
Biden said he believed making Juneteenth a public holiday would be one of the “highest honors” of his still-ongoing presidency. The Biden administration has sought to prioritize racial equity, both in the mix of high-level staff and in its political agenda, and has made it a central tenet of White House strategy .
The bill was passed by Congress earlier this week, passing the Senate on Tuesday and the House the next day, a development somewhat expected after generations of inertia.
The legislation garnered overwhelming majorities in both houses of Congress, although more than a dozen House Republicans voted against the measure.
Juneteenth becomes the eleventh federally recognized holiday and the first in 38 years since the adoption of Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983.
Ahead of the White House signing ceremony, Biden’s first public event since returning from a diplomatic trip abroad on Wednesday, the Office of Personnel Management announced on Twitter that most federal workers would be off on Friday, because June 19 falls on a Saturday this year.
Washington DC Mayor Muriel Bowser also announced Thursday that the public school system will cancel all classes on Friday for the holiday, which is officially named Juneteenth National Independence Day, a week before the end of the school year. .