Beginning on Friday, June 18, federal employees enjoyed the country’s 12th—and perhaps most significant—paid holiday. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris held a signing ceremony, officially marking Juneteenth as a federal holiday.
Because Juneteenth falls on a Saturday this year, workers are enjoying the new holiday one day early.
“Black history is American history, and I am proud to stand alongside President Biden and my fellow congressional colleagues in reaffirming that sacred principle,” Congressional Black Caucus Chair Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) stated.
“While we rightfully celebrate this momentous moment today, the Congressional Black Caucus recognizes that the work to build a brighter tomorrow for Black Americans is far from over. ‘Our Power, Our Message’ remains the same: equity, equality, and justice for all people.”
President Biden thanked Congress, especially the Congressional Black Caucus, and gave a special acknowledgment to Opal Lee, a 94-year-old activist who for years has been championing the Juneteenth holiday and was there to witness the signing of the bill into law.
“I’ve got so many emotions… I’m so delighted to know that, finally, we’ve got a Juneteenth bill passed!”
Biden said, “You know, I said a few weeks ago, marking the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, 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 made. And in remembering those moments, we begin to heal and grow stronger.”
Before attending the White House signing ceremony, Congresswoman Beatty witnessed the bill’s engrossment while flanked by CBC members and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
President Biden and Vice President Harris had made it a mission of their administration to undo as much systemic racism and defeat White supremacy.
With a diverse cabinet and staff, and policies that aim to level the playing field for African Americans and other people of color, the administration has worked diligently in living up to its mission. Juneteenth was established on June 19, 1865, more than two years after the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Union soldiers —led by General Gordon Granger—arrived in Galveston, Texas, with the news that the Civil War was over and all previously enslaved people were free.
President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in September 1862 to free enslaved people in Confederate states. However, it wasn’t until nearly three years later that news of the proclamation reached Black people in Texas.
The fight to formally recognize Juneteenth has been a decades-long effort culminating in the broad bipartisan passage of the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act. Before the U.S. House of Representatives’ historic vote, Congresswoman Beatty called on her colleagues to support the measure.“You can’t change the future if you can’t acknowledge the past,” she proclaimed.
Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), Chairwoman of the House Committee on Financial Services, applauded signage of the bill.
However, Congresswoman Waters said recognition comes 156 years late. “While this is certainly welcomed,” stated Waters, “it comes 156 years late, and after legislation to protect voting rights and address police abuse sits idle because of Republican Senators who refuse to understand the need to protect our communities and our right to participate in this democracy.”
“To put this moment into perspective, the establishment of Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a federal holiday happened in 1986, and we are still fighting for our civil rights,” she stated.
Congresswoman Waters continued: “We are still waiting for Senate passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. We are still waiting for lynching to be classified as a federal hate crime. We are still waiting for the terrorists who destroyed Black Wall Street during the Tulsa Race Massacre to be held accountable, and we are still waiting for Black history to be accurately taught in our schools.”
The congresswoman insisted further that “as we celebrate the passage of this legislation, let us be clear that we will not be distracted or appeased.”
“We will not simply accept Juneteenth as a federal holiday in exchange for real action that honors our history and our place in this country and moves us closer to achieving justice,” Congresswoman Waters remarked.
She said she fully expects her colleagues to join her urgent calls for the passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Senate passage of the For the People Act.
“In the final analysis, it will be shown that platitudes and niceties are one thing but having the courage and taking real action on this issue is another,” Congresswoman Waters demanded.
“Let us honor this day by working toward a nation in which Black lives and Black votes are protected and respected.”