By Miriam Raftery
Photo via C-Span
View video of bill signing: https://www.c-span.org/video/?c4967194/president-biden-signs-bill-making-juneteenth-federal-holiday
June 17, 2021 (San Diego) — President Joe Biden today signed into law a bill making June 19, known as Juneteenth, a federal holiday. The measure was passed by the Senate on unanimous consent yesterday and approved by the House of Representatives on Wednesday by a 415-14 vote.
All San Diego members of Congress voted in favor of the bill, including Republican Darrell Issa and Democrats Susan Davis, Mark Levin, Scott Peters and Juan Vargas. View the roll call.
Juneteenth commemorates the arrival of Union troops in Galveston, Texas after the Civil War ended on June 19, 1867, marking the official end of slavery in the U.S. more than two years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation which ordered that slaves be freed.
During today’s bill signing ceremony, President Biden stated, “Great nations don’t ignore the most painful moments. They don’t ignore those moments in the past. They embrace them.” The signing was held in the White House before a crowd that included lawmakers and 94-year-old Opal Lee, who campaigned to make the day a national holiday. Biden discussed efforts by some states to restrict voting rights and called Juneteenth a date to not only commemorate the past, but also call for action to prevent voter suppression and assure racial equity.
Already a state holiday is 47 states and the District of Columbia, Juneteenth will now be a federal holiday. Federal workers will have this Friday off, since this year Juneteenth falls on a Saturday.
Shane Harris, founder of the People’s Association of People’s Justice in San Diego, is a national civil rights leader. He stated, “While this moment is historic in nature it is only a holiday and means nothing if the follow up is not passing real legislative reforms that impact equity in Black communities across America. Let’s be clear that when President Lincoln signed the emancipation proclamation in 1863 two years later there were still slaves in Galveston, Texas who didn’t know they were free.”
Harris concluded, “If we don’t follow this creation of the Juneteenth holiday up with substance then this is simply a nice show of support for the Black community but not action or freedom. We need the Senate to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021 & the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and put those bills of substance on the President's desk. My hope is that our curriculum in schools starts to reflect Juneteenth's history for generations to come so our kids know the truth of when African American slaves were actually freed.”
The San Diego Lawyers Club also praised the action. “The designation of Juneteenth as a federal holiday is an important recognition of a milestone in American history, the end of hundreds of years of the tragedy and travesty of slavery,” Lawyers Club president Yahairah Aristy said. “As a Black Latina woman and the leader of an organization dedicated to equality, I hope Juneteenth will be a day of both celebration and reflection for all. Let us all take the opportunity to learn more about our history and to commit to the continuing struggle to ensure equality for all Americans.”