Juneteenth is now a federal holiday.
President Joe Biden was accompanied by Vice President Kamala Harris Thursday afternoon as he signed into law a bill commemorating Juneteenth — the day marking the end of legal slavery — as a federal holiday.
Because June 19 falls on a Saturday this year, most federal employees now have today off.
“Juneteenth marks both a long, hard night of slavery subjugation and a promise of a brighter morning to come,” the president said during the signing ceremony at the White House. “This is a day of profound weight and profound power. A day which you’ll remember the moral stain, the terrible toll that slavery took on the country and continues to take. What I’ve long called America’s original sin.”
Saturday commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union Major General Gordon Granger announced the end of slavery in Galveston, Tex. This move came in accordance with former President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which was declared on Jan. 1, 1863.
U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, voted to pass the legislation on Wednesday.
“Slavery was a scourge on our nation’s history that should not be ignored or swept under the rug,” the congressman said in a statement. “Today, we took a small but important step to reckon with our past and look to the future. I was proud to cast my vote to make Juneteenth a federal holiday, cementing this celebration of freedom for enslaved African Americans as an American tradition. This is long overdue, and I am thankful for the advocacy of all those who have helped make this possible.”
The bill commemorating Juneteenth a holiday received a unanimous vote in the Senate and was passed overwhelmingly in the House of Representatives on Wednesday.
“This weekend, I hope every member of our community will join me in celebrating Juneteenth as a national holiday for the first time,” Rep. Carbajal said. “As we celebrate black lives and liberation, we must continue working to address systemic racism in order to make our nation more equal, fair and free.”
The Santa Barbara representative recently awarded the 2021 Congressional Women of the Year Award to two racial justice advocates on the Central Coast. Santa Barbara poet Sojourner Kincaid Rolle received the award for her work to raise awareness of diverse cultural history, along with her heavy involvement with Juneteenth Santa Barbara and Healing Justice Santa Barbara. Courtney Haile from San Luis Obispo won the award as well for her work as co-founder of a grassroots organization amplifying racial justice and centering black voices through art and culture.
The congressman will attend a Juneteenth celebration in Lompoc this weekend.
“Throughout history, Juneteenth has been known by many names, and today, a national holiday,” Vice President Harris said at the signing ceremony. “And looking out across this room, I see the advocates, the activists, the leaders who have been calling for this day for so long, including the one and only, Ms. Opal Lee.”
The vice president was, of course, referring to the 94-year-old activist who led the charge for Juneteenth to become a federal holiday. Ms. Lee received a standing ovation and personal thanks from President Biden at the ceremony. The president also referred to her as the “grandmother” of the movement to make Juneteenth a federal holiday.
Juneteenth is the first federal holiday established since 1983, when Martin Luther King Jr. Day was declared. This is the 11th federal holiday recognized by the U.S. government. All non-essential government employees are off work on federal holidays, along with most government offices, such as post offices. Banks are also closed on federal holidays.
States and private companies are not required to observe federal holidays, but some may choose to do so.
“Great nations don’t ignore their most painful moments,” the commander-in-chief said during his remarks. “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. And remembering those moments, we begin to heal and grow stronger.”