Earlier today, President Biden signed a bill into law making Juneteenth a federal holiday. Because June 19 falls on a Saturday this year, most federal employees will get this Friday off.
According to CNN, Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, which was the day that Union Army Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas, and told slaves of their emancipation. That day came more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. Even after Lincoln declared all enslaved people free on paper, that hadn’t necessarily been the case in practice (and news didn’t travel as quickly back then).
“Great nations don’t ignore the most painful moments. They don’t ignore those moments in the past. They embrace them,” President Biden said in the White House, according to The Washington Post. He signed the bill in front of a crowd that included lawmakers and 94-year-old Opal Lee, who campaigned to make the day a national holiday. The president, who spoke of efforts in some states to restrict voting rights, noted that the date doesn’t only celebrate the past; it is also a call for action.
Juneteenth is the first holiday to be approved since Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which was established in 1983.
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