Washington, US President Joe Biden has signed into law a bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the nation.
“Great nations don’t ignore their most painful moments, they embrace them. Great nations don’t walk away, they come to terms with the mistakes they’ve made. In remembering those moments, we begin to heal and grow stronger,” Biden said at a signing ceremony in the White House East Room on Thursday.
Flanked by Vice President Kamala Harris, members of the Congressional Black Caucus and other lawmakers, Biden added: “The truth is, it’s simply not enough to commemorate Juneteenth. After all, the emancipation of enslaved Black Americans didn’t mark the end of America’s work to deliver on the promise of equality, it only marked the beginning.
“To honour the true meaning of Juneteenth, we have to continue towards that promise because we have not gotten there yet.”
The bill was passed in the Senate with unanimous consent on Tuesday, and the House approved it Wednesday in an overwhelming 415-14 vote.
The signing came after Biden just returned from his first presidential trip overseas to Europe, and two days before this year’s Juneteenth.
With the President signing off on the bill, the Juneteenth National Independence Day becomes the 11th federal holiday in the US, and the first new one since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was designated a federal holiday in 1983.
Since this year’s Juneteenth falls on Saturday, most federal employees get a day off on Friday.
Celebrated on June 19, the holiday marks the day in 1865 when Union Major General Gordon Granger issued General Order No. 3 in Galveston, Texas, emancipating the remaining enslaved people in the state.
For enslaved Americans in Texas, freedom came two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
Biden in his remarks while signing the bill also spoke of efforts by some Republican-led states to make it harder for people to vote.
The promise of freedom, the President said, is “not going to be fulfilled so long as the sacred right to vote remains under attack”.
Senate Republicans, led by minority leader Mitch McConnell, vowed on Thursday to block the advancement of the voting rights legislation known as For the People Act, a Democratic legislative priority.
Republican opposition will all but guarantee a Senate filibuster — the 60-vote super-majority rule that gives a united minority an effective veto power.
“I’ve taken a look at all the new state laws – none of them are designed to suppress the vote,” McConnell said Thursday.
“There is no rational basis for the federal government to take over all of American elections.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is sending the bill to the Senate floor on June 22.
All eyes are on Democratic senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who has withheld his support for the bill, and is a wild card in the Democratic conference who could make unanimity among the 50 members on the issue unachievable.
Emerging from a huddling with Democratic senators Thursday, Manchin suggested that he would join with them to at least start debating the bill next week.