President Joe Biden Signs Bill Making Juneteenth a Federal Holiday

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U.S. President Joe Biden speaks beside U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris before signing the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, June 17, 2021. Biden signed the legislation that will make June 19 a federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States after the House and Senate passed the bill in votes earlier this week.
Oliver Contreras/Sipa/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden on Thursday signed into law a measure that makes June 19, or Juneteenth, a federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. Vice President Harris, too, marked the event.

The bill, the Juneteenth Independence Day Act, headed to Mr. Biden's desk after it overwhelmingly passed the House on Wednesday and the Senate on Tuesday. Fourteen Republicans opposed the legislation in the House. 

"As we establish Juneteenth as our newest national holiday, let us be clear about what happened on June 19, 1865, the day we call Juneteenth," Harris said, speaking of how the enslaved people of Galveston, Texas, became free. 

"They learned that they were free. And they claimed their freedom," she said, urging Americans to "learn from our history" and "teach our children our history."

Mr. Biden, speaking of what he's long called "America's original sin," urged the nation to learn from those bitter moments, to heal, and to emerge from those painful moments to make a better version of America.

"Today, we consecrate Juneteenth for what it ought to be, for what it must be, a national holiday. As the vice president noted, a holiday that will join the others of our national celebrations," the president said. 

Mr. Biden said this day will probably go down for him "as one of the greatest honors I will have had as president." 

With its passage, Juneteenth, also known as Emancipation Day or Freedom Day, becomes the nation's 12th federal holiday. It is the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was established in 1983.

The law will go into effect immediately. The Office of Personnel Management, the agency that oversees the federal workforce, said most federal employees will observe the holiday on Friday, since June 19 falls on a Saturday.

Legislation to formally marking the end of slavery was introduced last year by Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas and Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts, both Democrats, after the death of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis. Neither measure, however, received a vote on the floors of their respective chambers. The lawmakers reintroduced their bills earlier this year, with each receiving broad bipartisan support.

While one Republican senator, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, previously blocked the bill in the Senate over its cost and lack of debate, he said Tuesday he would no longer object, citing a lack of appetite in Congress to further discuss the issue.

Juneteenth marks the day in 1865 when the last enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Texas, were notified the Civil War had ended and they were free. The news was brought to them more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all slaves in the Confederate states.

(This story was originally published by CBS News on June 17 at 8:44 a.m. ET) 

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