President Joe Biden has signed legislation recognizing Juneteenth National Independence Day as the nation's 12th federal holiday—and the first new one in decades.
"This is a day of profound weight and profound power," Biden said during a White House signing ceremony Thursday afternoon. "Great nations don't ignore their most painful moments—they embrace them...In remembering those moments we begin to heal and grow stronger."
Earlier this week the U.S. Senate unanimously approved creation of the national holiday. The House followed suit Wednesday, passing the bill on a 415-14 vote.
Biden expressed appreciation for the overwhelming bipartisan support: "I'm especially pleased that we showed the nation we can come together as Democrats and Republicans."
Juneteenth marks the day when, in 1865, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger told African American slaves in Galveston, Texas, that they were free. The news came two months after the end of the Civil War and almost three years after President Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
On Thursday Vice President Kamala Harris noted the signing ceremony was taking place just steps away from where Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation at the White House.
"Today is a day of celebration," she said.
In 1980 Texas became the first state to recognize Juneteenth as a holiday each June 19. Most states and the District of Columbia have since followed suit with either a holiday or observance, but now all federal employees will get the day off.
The last time Congress created a new federal holiday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983.
Gainesville kicked off a month-long slate of Juneteenth events on May 20—which is Florida Emancipation Day—featuring exhibits, movies at Depot Park, food truck rallies and other festivities that run through Saturday, June 19.
"Gainesville is honored to share in the National observance of Juneteenth," Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe said in a statement to Mainstreet Daily News. "This thrilling news puts a welcomed capstone on our celebrations."