Biden to Signal Legislation Making Juneteenth a Federal Vacation

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President Biden signed law on Thursday making June 10 a federal holiday, the day after the House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted to make June 19 a national day to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States .

The Senate passed the move without debate earlier this week after dispelling a longstanding Republican objection, and the House of Representatives approved it Wednesday by 415 to 14 votes, with 14 Republicans opposed. Mr Biden said he counts the signing of the law as one of the greatest honors he will have as president. Ms. Harris also signed the bill in her capacity as President of the Senate, an administration official said.

“Throughout history, Juneteenth has been known by many names: Anniversary Day, Freedom Day, Liberation Day, Emancipation Day, and Today a National Holiday,” said Ms. Harris at a ceremonial signing of a bill in the White House. National holidays, Ms. Harris said, “are days when we as a nation choose to stop and take stock and often acknowledge our history.”

Mr. Biden called it “a day of what I believe to be profound weight and power” and stated that it was the first new national holiday since Martin Luther King Day in 1983. By making it a federal holiday, Mr. Biden said, “All Americans can feel the power of this day and learn from our history and celebrate progress and grapple with the distance we have traveled but the distance we must travel . “

The law goes into effect immediately, making Friday the first federal holiday in June in American history. The Federal Office for Human Resources announced on Thursday that most federal employees would be watching him on Friday, as June 19 falls on a Saturday this year.

Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery and is also known as Emancipation Day, Jubilee Day and Juneteenth Independence Day. Its name comes from June 19, 1865, when Major General Gordon Granger in Galveston, Texas, issued General Ordinance No. 3 declaring that “all slaves are free” in accordance with the Emancipation Proclamation. Months later, the 13th Amendment was ratified, abolishing slavery in the last three border states that were not subject to the orders of President Abraham Lincoln.

The commemoration of Juniteenth as a federal holiday “indicated that this nation’s original sin was recognized,” said Sheila Jackson Lee, Democrat of Texas and the main legislature sponsor, in an interview with MSNBC on Thursday.

The momentum of establishing Juneteenth as a federal holiday picked up pace last year in a summer marked by race riots and protests against Black Lives Matter in response to the police murder of George Floyd. To woo black voters in the final months of the 2020 election, President Donald J. Trump pledged to support legislation to introduce the new federal holiday if he is re-elected. Still, some right-wing activists criticized the Republicans who supported the measure.

Mr Biden highlighted Opal Lee, an activist who marched from her Fort Worth home to Washington, DC, at the age of 89 to declare Juneteenth a national holiday. The president called her “a grandmother of the Movement to Make the Tenth of June a Federal Day”.

He also designed the holiday as part of his government’s efforts to address racial justice across the federal government.

“The promise of equality will only be fulfilled when we become a reality, it becomes a reality in our schools and on our main streets and in our neighborhoods,” he said. He urged Americans to celebrate the new holiday as “a day of action on many fronts,” especially vaccines.

At a US Capitol enrollment ceremony Thursday morning when Spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi signed the bill, North Carolina Democrat GK Butterfield, Rep. Led lawmakers singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a song often referred to as that Black national anthem.

South Carolina Rep. James E. Clyburn, the No. 3 Democrat in the House of Representatives, said he would press for the song to be named America’s “National Anthem.”