WASHINGTON, D.C. — Juneteenth is now officially a federal holiday and federal employees will have Friday, June 18, off to recognize it.
President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law Thursday afternoon. He and Vice President Kamala Harris also delivered remarks at the signing event held in the East Room of the White House.
"We must learn from our history, and we must teach our children our history, because it is part of our history as a nation," said Harris, who spoke first.
“Juneteenth marks both the long, hard night of slavery and subjugation and a promise of a brighter morning to come. This is a day of profound, in my view, profound weight, and profound power,” said Biden.
Biden said great nations don't ignore their most painful moments; they embrace them.
"Great nations don't walk away. We come to terms with the mistakes we've made. And remembering those moments, we begin to heal," said Biden.
Opal Lee, a 94-year-old activist who pushed to make Juneteenth a national holiday, was also in attendance. The lawmakers thanked her for her work.
Juneteenth is observed on June 19 every year. It commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S. and is also known as Emancipation Day, Jubilee Day, and Juneteenth Independence Day.
The holiday dates back to June 19, 1865, when Major General Gordon Granger issued General Order No. 3 in Galveston. The order let the slaves of Texas know they were free, in accordance with the Emancipation Proclamation.
The U.S. House overwhelmingly passed the legislation to mark the federal holiday on Wednesday, a day after the U.S. Senate gave its approval.
This is the first time in nearly 40 years that the U.S. has recognized a new federal holiday. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was the last added, in 1983. There are now 12 federal holidays.
By making it a federal holiday, the bill only guarantees federal workers will get Juneteenth off. There is no requirement that private businesses give employees the day off.
Since the legislation passed both houses of Congress and received the president's signature so quickly, it's not clear at this time which federal entities will be closed Friday. The Office of Personnel Management tweeted that "most federal employees will observe the holiday tomorrow, June 18th." No word if that includes post offices.
While many are celebrating Congress’ move, others are critical, saying it’s largely symbolic and that more concrete things could be done to assist the African American community.