President Biden Signs Juneteenth Federal Holiday Into Law

Jessica Williams
Published Jul 11, 2023

On June 17th, 2021, President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day federal holiday into law, ending years of struggle to make it official. Although the day was already celebrated across the nation by all 50 states, it was never officially recognized until now. The law has taken into immediate effect, with Friday, June 18 being chosen as the day of celebration due to the fact that it's the closest weekday to the weekend.

What Exactly is Juneteenth?

On September 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation stating that all slaves within states that were rebelling against the United States were considered free under the law. However, unlike today, communication wasn't the fastest, especially in such a large state like Texas. Two years after the emancipation proclamation was signed and the conference was defeated, federal troops arrived in Texas on June 19, 1865. General Granger announced that "The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free". Soon after, celebration erupted across the state by newly-freed slaves.

"Great Nations Don't Walk Away"

Before the signing of the new federal holiday, President Biden spoke at the White House in front of guests ranging from members of Congress to those who have been fighting for years to make this day happen. President Biden provided two main reasons for making Juneteenth a national holiday. The first one includes the awareness that this would provide to the nation and hopefully encourage citizens to learn more about it. The second involves the responsibility of a great nation not to walk away from its past mistakes but to come to terms with them and correct them.

Republican Opposition

Although making Juneteenth a federal holiday seemed to be an easy YES vote for most members of Congress, some members of the GOP opposed the move. This would lead to 14 members of the House GOP caucus voting NO on the new law. The argument from the GOP was not regarding the creation of a new federal holiday but rather the name that it was given. GOP members of Congress had concerns over the words "independence" added to the name of the holiday. According to GOP members, this wording may cause confusion between the new Juneteenth holiday and independence day, which is celebrated every July 4th. Basically, GOP members worried that this would force Americans to choose a day of independence, thus further dividing the country. So instead, they proposed that the official name have the word "emancipation" included rather than the word independence.

Congressional Black Caucus Resonse

Understandably, members of Congress but especially those from the Congressional Black Caucus to offense to the arguments being made by the GOP. In response to their independence argument, Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Mich, looked towards her GOP colleagues and said that "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". Rep. Brenda Lawrence added that this was the time to take the opportunity to teach every Black and White American the pride and success of those who survived in the United States, despite slavery.

President Biden Remarks

Although pushed to be a federal holiday since even before President Obama took office, the bill was never signed into law. Strong Republican opposition and other large issues going on around the world and within the nation would often derail any progress made. Today, however, along with a Democratic-controlled Congress, Juneteenth was finally made a federal holiday. President Biden said after the fact that "I think this will go down, for me, as one of the greatest honors I've had as president.

As stated above, the Juneteenth National Independence Day has gone into immediate effect across the nation, with June 18th being assigned the day of celebration. States across the country will conduct their own forms of celebration, as has already been the tradition for years now. However, this year, it will be that much more special.

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