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Biden signs law making Juneteenth a federal holiday

Biden signs legislation making June 19, or Juneteenth, the 12th federal holiday. The day commemorates the end of slavery in this country.

The United States is commemorating the end of slavery with a new federal holiday.

President Biden signed legislation into law Thursday to make Juneteenth, or June 19, the 12th federal holiday. The House voted 415 to 14 on Wednesday to send the bill to the president.

“This is a day of profound weight and profound power, a day in which we remember the moral stain, the terrible toll that slavery took on the country and continues to take,” Biden said.

Juneteenth commemorates the day in 1865 when Union soldiers brought the news of freedom to enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas — two months after the Confederacy had surrendered and about 2½ years after the Emancipation Proclamation freed enslaved people in the Southern states.

It’s the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was created in 1983.

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From Leimert Park’s annual celebration to Segerstrom’s first year of festivities, commemorations of Juneteenth will feature Black art across the region.

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management tweeted Thursday that most federal employees will observe the new holiday — Juneteenth National Independence Day — on Friday since June 19 falls on a Saturday this year.

Biden noted the overwhelming support for the bill from lawmakers in both parties. He had run for president promising to unite the country and work with Republicans, but his first major legislation to provide more COVID-19 relief to American consumers and businesses was passed along party lines and he has struggled to unite lawmakers to support a major public works bill.

“I hope this is the beginning of a change in the way we deal with one another,” Biden said.

Biden signed the legislation surrounded by members of the Congressional Black Caucus as well as the lead sponsors of the legislation in the Senate — Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas). He was introduced by Vice President Kamala Harris, the nation’s first Black vice president.

“We have come far and we have far to go, but today is a day of celebration,” Harris said.

The White House moved quickly to hold the signing ceremony after the House debated the bill and then approved it Wednesday.

“Our federal holidays are purposely few in number and recognize the most important milestones,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.). “I cannot think of a more important milestone to commemorate than the end of slavery in the United States.”

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), speaking next to a large poster of a Black man whose back bore massive scarring from being whipped, said she would be in Galveston on Saturday to celebrate with Cornyn.

After California joined the Union in 1850, slavery continued here. It’s a little-taught fact that makes Juneteenth more relevant to Californians.

“Can you imagine?” said Jackson Lee. “I will be standing maybe taller than Sen. Cornyn, forgive me for that, because it will be such an elevation of joy.”

The Senate passed the bill unanimously on Tuesday under a consent agreement that expedites the process for considering legislation. Any one senator’s objection could have blocked the measure.

The votes come as lawmakers struggle to overcome divisions over police reform legislation introduced following the murder of George Floyd by police and as Republican state legislators push an unprecedented number of bills aimed at restricting access to the ballot box. While Republicans say the goal is to prevent voter fraud, Democrats contend that the measures are intended to undermine minority voting rights.

Several members of the Congressional Black Caucus went to the floor to speak in favor of the bill. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.) said she viewed Juneteenth as a commemoration rather than a celebration because it represented something that was delayed in happening.

“It also reminds me of what we don’t have today,” she said. “And that is full access to justice, freedom and equality. All these are often in short supply as it relates to the Black community.”

The bill had 60 cosponsors. Democratic leaders moved quickly to bring the bill to the House floor after the Senate’s vote the day before.

Juneteenth 2021: Movies, books, events, and podcasts to try

Some Republican lawmakers opposed the effort. Rep. Matthew M. Rosendale (R-Mont.) said creating the federal holiday was an effort to celebrate “identity politics.”

“Since I believe in treating everyone equally, regardless of race, and that we should be focused on what unites us rather than our differences, I will vote no,” he said in a press release.

The vast majority of states recognize Juneteenth as a holiday or have an official observance of the day, and most states hold celebrations. Juneteenth is a paid holiday for state employees in Texas, New York, Virginia and Washington.

Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.) said that he would vote for the bill and that he supported the establishment of a federal holiday, but he was upset that the name of the holiday included the word “independence” rather than “emancipation.”

“Why would the Democrats want to politicize this by coopting the name of our sacred holiday of Independence Day?” Higgins asked.

Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.) replied, “I want to say to my white colleagues on the other side: Getting your independence from being enslaved in a country is different from a country getting independence to rule themselves.”

She added, “We have a responsibility to teach every generation of Black and white Americans the pride of a people who have survived, endured and succeeded in these United States of America despite slavery.”

The 14 House Republicans who voted against the bill are Rosendale, Andy Biggs of Arizona, Mo Brooks of Alabama, Andrew S. Clyde of Georgia, Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee, Paul Gosar of Arizona, Ronny Jackson of Texas, Doug LaMalfa of California, Thomas Massie of Kentucky, Tom McClintock of California, Ralph Norman of South Carolina, Mike D. Rogers of Alabama, Chip Roy of Texas and Thomas P. Tiffany of Wisconsin.


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