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President Biden and Vice President Harris with members of Congress after the signing in the White House on June 17. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

"Great nations don't ignore their most painful moments," President Biden said before signing legislation Thursday that establishes Juneteenth as a federal holiday, just two days before the occasion.

Why it matters: The holiday, which will be known as Juneteenth National Independence Day, is now the 11th annual federal holiday and the first one established since the creation of Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983.

Juneteenth, celebrated on June 19, memorializes when the last enslaved people in Texas learned about their freedom under the Emancipation Proclamation in 1865.

  • Almost the entire country — 49 states and D.C. — had already commemorated the date before it became a federal holiday.
  • The Senate unanimously passed the bill on Tuesday, and the House voted 415-14 on Wednesday to approve it.
  • Biden called signing the bill "an enormous, enormous honor."

What they're saying: "Great nations don't ignore their most painful moments," Biden said before signing the legislation. "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 marks both a long, hard night of slavery and a promise of a brighter morning to come," the president added.
  • "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."

Harris said before the signing, "When we establish a national holiday, it makes an important statement. National holidays are something important. These are days when we as a nation have decided to stop and take stock, and often to acknowledge our history."

  • "So, as we establish Juneteenth as our newest national holiday, let us be clear about what happened on June 19th, 1865, the day we call Juneteenth. Because, you see, that day was not the end of slavery in America," she added.
  • "Yes, on that day the enslaved people of Galveston, Texas, learned that they were free, but in fact two and a half years earlier, the Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery in the Confederacy."

Between the lines: The U.S. Office of Personnel Management announced Thursday that since June 19 falls on a Saturday this year, most federal employees will observe the holiday on Friday, June 18th.

  • Government offices are closed and federal employees will get paid time off for the day.

The big picture: The bill becomes law at a time when Congress can't agree on a police reform bill following the killing of George Floyd and new voting legislation in response to multiple states creating laws that restrict access to the ballot box.

Go deeper

Jun 16, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy will support Juneteenth bill

Kevin McCarthy. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy will support a bill to make Juneteenth a federal holiday when it comes to the floor later Wednesday, his office tells Axios.

Why it matters: The House is slated to pass a bill making June 19 — Juneteenth — a federal holiday that memorializes when the last enslaved people in Texas learned about their freedom under the Emancipation Proclamation.

  • It will then go to President Biden for his signature just days before the occasion and one day after the Senate passed the bill unanimously.
Jun 17, 2021 - Politics & Policy

The story behind the first holiday in 4 decades

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

As hard as it is to get Democrats and Republicans to agree on anything these days, they came together to make Juneteenth a federal holiday because George Floyd's death and withering concern about its cost finally won over critics.

Why it matters: Juneteenth will be the first new holiday since 1983, when Congress finally approved Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. When President Biden signs it into law, June 19 will formally commemorate the end of slavery in the United States.

A guide to Juneteenth celebrations in the Twin Cities

People celebrated Juneteenth last year in George Floyd Square. Photo: Kerem Yucel/AFP via Getty Images

Saturday is Juneteenth, a holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.

Background: On June 19, 1865, enslaved people in Galveston, Texas learned they were free — more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863.

  • A bill declaring Juneteenth a federal holiday was passed by the House and Senate this week.
  • The city of Minneapolis designated it a holiday this year. City offices will be closed on Friday.

Here's what's happening around the Twin Cities:

  • Friday is Juneteenth Family Night at Creekview Park, hosted by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. Music, a youth dance performance and activity bags provided. Virtual community panels will also be streamed tonight and Saturday.
  • The Juneteenth Revolutionary BlackOut Bike Ride returns on Saturday at Theodore Wirth Park. Get outdoors, listen to music and enjoy food from local Black farmers and chefs.
  • Also on Saturday, Black Lives Minnesota and others are holding a Reparations Juneteenth Celebration at the State Capitol.
  • Midtown Global Market will host a full Saturday afternoon of entertaining and educational programming, including some Juneteenth food specials.