President Biden on Thursday signed legislation establishing Juneteenth as a federal holiday just two days before the occasion.
“Great nations don’t ignore their most painful moments,” Biden said before signing the bill. “They don’t ignore those moments in the past. They embrace them. Great nations don’t walk away. We come to terms with the mistakes we made.”
Juneteenth National Independence Day is the 11th annual federal holiday and the first one to be established since Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983.
Juneteenth commemorates the Union Army declaration of the end of slavery in Texas on June 19, 1865. The declaration came more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in the midst of the Civil War.
“Juneteenth marks both a long, hard night of slavery and a promise of a brighter morning to come,” Biden said.
“This is a day of profound wait and profound power,” he added. “A day which you’ll remember the moral stain, the terrible toll that slavery took on the country and continues to take.”
The House approved the bill 415-14 on Wednesday, one day after the Senate unanimously voted in favor of the measure.
Even before Juneteenth became a federal holiday, 49 states and Washington, D.C., had already commemorated the date.
Efforts to recognize Juneteenth intensified in the wake of the nationwide racial reckoning that took place after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last year.
Fourteen House Republicans opposed the bill; Representative Matt Rosendale (R., Mont.) connected the holiday to critical race theory before the vote.
“Let’s call an ace an ace. This is an effort by the Left to create a day out of whole cloth to celebrate identity politics as part of its larger efforts to make Critical Race Theory the reigning ideology of our country,” Rosendale said in a statement.
On Thursday, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management announced that most federal employees will observe the holiday on Friday, June 18th as the holiday falls on a Saturday this year.