President Biden signs Juneteenth bill into law

President Joe Biden signed the bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday on Thursday, saying he believes it will be one of the greatest honors he has as president.

“This is a day of profound weight and profound power, a day in which we remember the moral stain, the terrible toll that slavery took on the country and continues to take,” Biden said at the ceremony.

Biden noted the overwhelming support for the bill from lawmakers in both parties.

“I hope this is the beginning of a change in the way we deal with one another,” Biden said.

The White House moved quickly after the House debated the bill and then voted for it.

“Our federal holidays are purposely few in number and recognize the most important milestones,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-New York. “I cannot think of a more important milestone to commemorate than the end of slavery in the United States.”

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, speaking next to a large poster of a Black man whose back bore massive scarring from being whipped, said she would be in Galveston on Saturday to celebrate along with Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas.

“Can you imagine?” said Jackson Lee. “I will be standing maybe taller than Senator Cornyn, forgive me for that, because it will be such an elevation of joy.”

The Juneteenth National Independence Day Act moved through Congress this week, with the House and Senate passing it just days before the holiday, which falls on Saturday. Juneteenth is the 12th federal holiday and the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was signed into law in 1983 by then-President Ronald Reagan.

Juneteenth commemorates the day that news of the Emancipation Proclamation reached Texas in 1865. Although Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation became effective Jan. 1, 1863, some holders of enslaved people didn’t give them the message that they were free. On June 19, 1865, Union Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger brought the news to Galveston.

More than 60% of Americans know “nothing at all” or only “a little bit” about Juneteenth, also known as Emancipation Day, Black Independence Day or Jubilee Day, according to a new Gallup survey.

The 37% of respondents who reported having “a lot” or “some” knowledge of the holiday may be an increase from previous years, pollsters and academics believe, reflecting growing awareness after last summer’s protests against racism and police brutality.

The survey found nearly half supported teaching the history of Juneteenth in public schools. There was less support — 35% — for making June 19 a federal holiday, but only a quarter of respondents said they were opposed to the idea.

The poll is the first Gallup has conducted about Juneteenth.

Most states recognize Juneteenth as a holiday or have an official observance of the day, and most states hold celebrations. Juneteenth is a paid holiday for state employees in Texas, New York, Virginia and Washington.

Under the legislation, the federal holiday would be known as Juneteenth National Independence Day.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.