WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden signed law Thursday making June 10 a federal holiday and setting June 19 a national day to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States.
“All Americans can feel the power of this day and learn from our history,” said Biden at a ceremony in the White House, noting that it was the first national holiday since Martin Luther King’s birthday in 1983.
He said signing the law was one of the greatest honors he will have as president.
The law went into effect immediately, making Friday the state‘s first day of June 10th. Public schools were closed at short notice. The Federal Office for Personnel Management announced that most federal employees would keep the holiday Friday as a Saturday since June 19 this year. At the White House, officials canceled the daily press conference and withdrew normal meetings for Friday.
However, the Nasdaq stock market said US markets were expected to remain open on Friday.
The Senate pushed the move through without debate this week after dispelling a longstanding Republican objection, and the House of Representatives approved it Wednesday by 415-14 votes, with all of the opposition coming from the GOP.
“Throughout history, Juneteenth has been known by many names: Anniversary Day. Freedom day. Liberation Day. Emancipation Day. And today is a national holiday, ”said Vice President Kamala Harris, introducing Biden. She also signed the law in her capacity as President of the Senate.
Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. 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 four border states that were not subject to the orders of President Abraham Lincoln.
The momentum of establishing Juneteenth as a federal holiday picked up pace last year in a summer marked by race rioting 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 campaign, former President Donald 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.
At the White House, Biden highlighted Opal Lee, an activist who, at the age of 89, decided to move from her Fort Worth, Texas home to Washington, DC to make Juneteenth a national holiday. The president called her “a grandmother of the Movement to Make the 10th of June a Federal Day” and went down on one knee to greet her in the audience.
He remembered meeting her on an election campaign in Nevada last year. “She told me she loved me and I believed it,” he joked. Biden also crafted 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,” said the president. He urged Americans to celebrate the new holiday as a “day of action on many fronts” – especially vaccines.
“We have more work to do to close the racist divide in vaccination rates,” said Biden.
Rep. GK Butterfield, DN.C., led lawmakers to sing “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” often called the Black National Anthem, at a US Capitol enrollment ceremony Thursday morning where Spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi signed the bill.
South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn, the No. 3 Democrat in the House, said he would press for the song to be declared America’s “national anthem.” This article originally appeared in the New York Times.