First new holiday in 38 years.
Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. Its name stems from June 19, 1865, when Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger in Galveston, Texas, issued General Order No. 3, which announced that in accordance with the Emancipation Proclamation, “all slaves are free.” Months later, the 13th Amendment was ratified, abolishing slavery in the final four border states that had not been subjected to President Abraham Lincoln’s order.
Momentum to establish Juneteenth as a federal holiday picked up steam last year during a summer defined by racial unrest and Black Lives Matter protests in response to the murder of George Floyd by the police. In a bid to woo Black voters during the final months of the 2020 campaign, President Donald J. Trump promised to support legislation to establish the new federal holiday if he was re-elected. Still, some right-wing activists criticized Republicans who supported the measure.
At the White House, Mr. Biden singled out Opal Lee, an activist who at the age of 89 decided to walk from her home in Fort Worth to Washington, D.C., in an effort to get Juneteenth named a national holiday. The president called her “a grandmother of the movement to make Juneteenth a federal holiday” and got down on one knee to greet her in the audience.
He reminisced about meeting her last year while campaigning in Nevada. “She told me she loved me, and I believed it,” he joked. Mr. Biden also framed the holiday as part of his administration’s efforts to address racial equity throughout the federal government.
“The promise of equality is not going to be fulfilled until we become real, it becomes real in our schools and on our Main Streets and in our neighborhoods,” the president said. He pressed Americans to celebrate the new holiday as a day “of action on many fronts,” most important, vaccines.