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Juneteenth becomes a federal holiday

Biden signs bill into law making Juneteenth a national holiday
02:39

What you need to know

  • President Biden signed a bill to establish Juneteenth as a federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. 
  • The legislation gained momentum in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd last year — but Congress has made little progress on federal police reform. A bill named for Floyd remains stalled following Republican opposition. 
  • At the same time, multiple states have moved to ban teaching critical race theory in schools. 
  • There’s also a raft of new state laws aimed at restricting voting rights. 

Our live coverage has ended. Read more about Juneteenth here.

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Juneteenth is now an official federal holiday. Here are key things to know about the day and its history.

President Joe Biden signs the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act.

June 19 is now officially Juneteenth National Independence Day, a US federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.

Here’s what you need to know about the holiday and its history:

  • The day’s name is a blending of the words June and nineteenth.
  • It commemorates June 19, 1865: the day that Union Army Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas, and told slaves of their emancipation. That day came more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. Even after Lincoln declared all enslaved people free on paper, that hadn’t necessarily been the case in practice.
  • Juneteenth is also known as Emancipation Day. People across the country celebrate with food and festivities, much like the Fourth of July.
  • All but one state, as well as the District of Columbia, recognize the milestone of Black liberation in some shape or form. For example, some companies honor the occasion by giving their employees the day off.
  • Despite being celebrated since 1865, it was only until 1980 that Texas became the first state to make Juneteenth a state holiday.
  • With Biden’s signature, Juneteenth is the first holiday to be approved since Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which was established in 1983.
  • Juneteenth has often been overlooked by non-Black Americans and omitted from history books. However, momentum to recognize the occasion was generated by the Black Lives Matter movement last year.
  • Despite certifying Juneteenth as a federal holiday, Black Americans continue to face systematic challenges such as the racial wealth gap, disproportionate incarceration and persistent health disparities. Therefore, activists say the holiday shouldn’t be seen as a substitute for substantive action, but a step in the right direction.

Read more about the Juneteenth federal holiday here.

Here's the story on US holidays

Juneteenth, the first federal holiday since Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in 1983, commemorates the end of slavery for the last slaves in Texas, nearly two years after Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

There are 11 current federal holidays, according to an informative report online from the Congressional Research Service.

Federal holidays started just as holidays for federal workers in Washington, DC. Now, many companies also observe many of them, but not all. And the new holiday will be observed on Friday because June 19 falls on a Saturday this year.

The full annual list of holidays is, according to US law:

  • New Year’s Day, January 1
  • Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., the third Monday in January
  • Washington’s Birthday, the third Monday in February
  • Memorial Day, the last Monday in May
  • Juneteenth National Independence Day, June 19
  • Independence Day, July 4
  • Labor Day, the first Monday in September
  • Columbus Day, the second Monday in October
  • Veterans Day, November 11
  • Thanksgiving Day, the fourth Thursday in November
  • Christmas Day, December 25

Lawmakers tied most holidays to Mondays rather than a fixed date in 1968, giving people long weekends. But rather than just give everyone a day off, there’s also the idea that these holidays should mean something.

Former President Barack Obama pushed Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a day of service, for instance. Veterans Day began as a day to commemorate the end of World War I. Then known as Armistice Day, it was made a federal holiday in 1938, just before World War II broke out.

Former President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving from the last Thursday in November to the third, specifically to give people more time to shop for Christmas.

Another exception to the list​​: Inauguration Day, Jan. 20, is observed every four years. But Election Day, the first Tuesday after the first Monday every other November, is not a holiday.

There have been periodic pushes to make Election Day a holiday since it could enable more people to vote, but Republicans have objected to that proposal.

When it was proposed in 2019, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the idea of giving Americans the day off to vote was, “a power grab that’s smelling more and more like exactly what it is.”

There have similarly been efforts for other federal holidays. Cesar Chavez Day on March 31. Susan B. Anthony Day or Womens’ Suffrage Day on Feb. 15. Those will have to wait.

Some context: As it stands now, there are 11 federal holidays each year and one extra each leap year. That works out to a little less than one per month, with two in January and none in March, April or August.

How to celebrate and commemorate Juneteenth

A woman prays during an event hosted by OneRace Movement at Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park to commemorate Juneteenth on Friday, June 19, 2020.

You can honor Juneteenth and amplify its importance in your own community with the following organizations and virtual opportunities:

  • The National Museum of African American History & Culture is hosting an online celebration called, Juneteenth: A Celebration of Resistance. According to their website, the virtual viewing spans two days from June 19 to June 20. For added education and awareness, the museum also put together an interactive timeline that walks online users through the history of Juneteenth and its significance today.
  • StepAfrika is calling viewers to its virtual theater for a Juneteenth performance which will broadcast at 8 p.m. ET on the June 19 holiday. The event will premiere works entitled, “Trane, Little Rock Nine and The Movement.” For information click here.
  • OutdoorAfro inspires connections of Black and African American individuals to nature. In honor of Juneteenth, the company is encouraging people to spend 2.5 hours in nature considering the question, “What does freedom mean to me in America?” Participants are also asked to reflect on the legacy of the 250,000 Black Americans in Galveston, Texas, who were denied their freedom for more than two years. By registering here people can submit their personal reflections, which may be publicly shared in honor of the holiday.
  • The Juneteenth Foundation will host its annual festival weekend. The celebration kicks off with virtual panel reflections and commitments made by corporations to Black advancement in the business sector. Conversations will also explore criminal justice reform, access to equity, and education. The weekend will also feature a virtual career panel and fair, which will include breakout sessions. A major highlight of the weekend is the organization’s Juneteenth Freedom Concert which will stream online.

Keep reading.

"Grandmother of Juneteenth" celebrates new federal holiday

Before Juneteenth became an official federal holiday, 94-year-old Opal Lee was on a mission.

“I’m not just going to sit and rock, you know?” the determined “Grandmother of Juneteenth” told CNN. “The Lord is going to have to catch me.”

Days later, the spirited nonagenarian shouted with delight as she watched Congress pass a bill to make Juneteenth — June 19 — a nationwide holiday commemorating the end of slavery.

“I’ve got so many different feelings all gurgling up here — I don’t know what to call them all,” she told CNN affiliate KTVT in Fort Worth, Texas, where she lives.

Right now she plans to savor the moment. But the woman who spent years fighting for Juneteenth stresses there’s work left to do to push back against racism.

“We’ve got all of these disparities that we’ve got to address and I mean all of them. While we’ve got some momentum, I hope we can get some of it done. We can have one America if we try,” she told KTVT.

Read more here.

Biden urges country to use Juneteenth as day of action

President Joe Biden speaks during an event to mark the passage of the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act.

President Biden said that signing legislation into law on Thursday establishing June 19 as Juneteenth National Independence Day — a US federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States — will go down as “one of the greatest honors” of his presidency.

“I have to say to you, I’ve only been President for several months, but I think this will go down, for me, as one of the greatest honors I will have as President,” Biden said at the White House during a signing ceremony.

“I regret that my grandchildren aren’t here, because this is a really, really, really important moment in our history. By making Juneteenth a federal holiday, all Americans can feel the power of this day and learn from our history — and celebrate progress and grapple with the distance we’ve come (and) the distance we have to travel,” Biden said.

During the ceremony, the President said it was not enough to commemorate the holiday, but to use it as a day of reflection and action.

“We can’t rest until the promise of equality is fulfilled for every one of us in every corner of this nation. That to me is the meaning of Juneteenth,” Biden said. “So let’s make this very Juneteenth tomorrow the first that our nation will celebrate all together, as one nation. A Juneteenth of action on many fronts.” 

Biden also underscored how his White House agenda is working to deliver equality and emphasized that the promise of equality is not going to fulfilled “so long as the sacred right to vote remains under attack.” The President specifically pointed to restrictive voter laws, calling them “an assault that offends our very democracy.”

The ceremony, which took place in the East Room, included some 80 members of Congress —including members of the Congressional Black Caucus, local elected officials, community leaders and activists. The President specifically noted that Opal Lee, the activist who campaigned to establish Juneteenth as a federal holiday, was in attendance.

Biden, speaking at the White House alongside Vice President Kamala Harris, repeated the sentiments he relayed when he commemorated the Tulsa race massacre earlier, that “great nations don’t ignore their most painful moments.”

“They embrace them. Great nations don’t walk away. We’ve come to terms with the mistakes we made and in remembering those moments, we begin to heal and grow stronger,” the President said.

The holiday is the first federal holiday established since Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983 and becomes at least the eleventh federal holiday recognized by the US federal government. The US Office of Personnel Management announced Thursday that most federal employees will observe the holiday on Friday since Juneteenth falls on a Saturday this year.

Read more about the Juneteenth federal holiday here.

Bernice King on Juneteenth becoming a federal holiday: "This is an important moment of reckoning"

Dr. Bernice A. King speaks during the 2021King Holiday Observance Beloved Community Commemorative Service on January 18, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. 

Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. and CEO of The King Center, said the passage of the bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday is “an important moment of reckoning.”

The holiday commemorates the day, June 19, 1865, when Major General Gordon Granger announced in Galveston, Texas, the end of slavery in accordance with President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation.

“This nation now will have an opportunity to learn even more about this important history that African Americans have faced. It’s a moment that creates a more sense of inclusion, you know. A lot of Black Americans don’t feel included on our Independence day as a nation because so many of our ancestors were not free,” King noted.

King also highlighted the ceremonial nature of the holiday and how there is still more work to be done.

“There’s just so much that has to happen in our Senate to really deliver substance to the Black community,” she said.

While the US moved to make Juneteenth a holiday, some states are banning teaching critical race theory

President Biden just signed a bill establishing Juneteenth — the day commemorating the end of slavery in the United States — as a federal holiday. Many federal workers will observe the holiday tomorrow, since this year June 19 falls on a Saturday.

The holiday is the first federal holiday established since Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983.

But the news of the new federal holiday comes at a time where multiple states have moved to ban schools from teaching critical race theory, which recognizes that systemic racism is part of American society and challenges the beliefs that allow it to flourish.

Critical race theory has become politicized in recent months, with opponents arguing the area of study is based on Marxism and is a threat to the American way of life. But critical race theory — according to scholars who study it — explores the ways in which a history of inequality and racism in the United States has continued to impact American society today.

“It’s an approach to grappling with a history of White supremacy that rejects the belief that what’s in the past is in the past and that the laws and systems that grow from that past are detached from it,” Kimberlé Crenshaw, a founding critical race theorist and a law professor at UCLA and Columbia University, told CNN last year.

And yet, across the country, local boards of education and states are pushing against teaching the impact of systemic racism and critical race theory in schools, calling it indoctrination.

Most federal employees will observe the Juneteenth federal holiday on Friday

President Biden just signed a bill establishing June 19 as Juneteenth National Independence Day.

The US federal holiday commemorates the end of slavery in the United States, and it is the first federal holiday established since Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983.

The US Office of Personnel Management announced Thursday that most federal employees will observe the holiday on Friday since Juneteenth falls on a Saturday this year.

The legislation, which was passed by Congress on Wednesday, gained momentum following Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd last year. It was also spurred after Democrats won the White House and control of the House of Representatives and the US Senate.

Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union Major General Gordon Granger announced the end of slavery in Galveston, Texas, in accordance with President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation. Only a handful of states currently observe Juneteenth as a paid holiday.

Read more about the federal holiday here.

Biden recognizes Opal Lee, "grandmother of Juneteenth"

President Joe Biden speaks with Opal Lee after he signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, in the East Room of the White House, Thursday, June 17.

President Biden used a portion of his White House remarks before signing a bill to make Juneteenth a new federal holiday to recognize Opal Lee, calling her an “incredible woman.”

“Opal, you’re incredible. A daughter of Texas. Grandmother of the movement to make Juneteenth a federal holiday,” Biden said of the 94-year-old activist.

Biden said that as a child growing up in Texas, Lee’s family would celebrate Juneteenth. The President shared that on June 19, 1939, when Lee was 12 years old, a White mob torched her family home. Biden noted that such hate “never stopped her” from her efforts to make it a federal holiday.

“Over the course of decades, she’s made it her mission to see that this day came. It was almost a singular mission. She’s walked for miles and miles literally and figuratively to bring attention to Juneteenth,” Biden said, asking that those in the room stand and give her a welcome to the White House.

In 2016, then 89-year-old Lee set out on foot from her home in Fort Worth, Texas, with the goal of reaching the nation’s capital. Determined to see Juneteenth become a national holiday, she hoped that “surely somebody would notice a little old lady in tennis shoes.”

The “grandmother of Juneteenth” continued to push for the effort with an annual 2.5-mile walk in her hometown, symbolizing the two-and-a-half years it took for word of the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation to reach enslaved people in Texas.

Earlier this year, she flew to Washington, DC, to push for Juneteenth legislation during the week Senate and House lawmakers re-introduced the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act.

CNN’s Harmeet Kaur contributed reporting to this post. 

Watch the moment:

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Juneteenth shows how "great nations don't ignore their most painful moments," Biden says

By making Juneteenth a new federal holiday, President Biden deemed it an example of the US coming to terms with “the mistakes we made.”

“Great nations don’t ignore their most painful moments. 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. And remembering those moments, we begin to heal and grow stronger,” Biden said during remarks at the White House.

Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union Major General Gordon Granger announced the end of slavery in Galveston, Texas, in accordance with President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation. Only a handful of states currently observe Juneteenth as a paid holiday.

The holiday will be the first federal holiday established since Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983, and will become at least the eleventh federal holiday recognized by the US federal government.

Biden: "Juneteenth marks both a long, hard night of slavery" and a "promise of a brighter morning to come"

President Biden shared somber remarks this afternoon from the White House ahead of signing a bill to establish Juneteenth as a federal holiday.

“Juneteenth marks both a long, hard night of slavery and subjugation, and a promise of a brighter morning to come. This is a day, in my view, 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. “What I’ve long called America’s original sin. ”

Read more about the federal holiday here.

Harris says Juneteenth becoming federal holiday "makes an important statement"

Vice President Kamala Harris delivered remarks at the White House before the signing of a bill establishing June 19 as Juneteenth National Independence Day, a US federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.

“Throughout history, Juneteenth has been known by many names: Jubilee Day. Freedom Day. Liberation Day. Emancipation Day. And today, a national holiday,” Harris said. “And looking out across this room, I see the advocates, the activists, the leaders who have been calling for this day for so long, including the one and only, Ms. Opal Lee.”

Lee has become a leading figure of the movement to make June 19 a national holiday. The 94-year-old has walked thousands of miles from Fort Worth to Washington, DC, to advocate for national recognition of the day.

“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,” she continued, after thanking members of Congress for passing the legislation on Wednesday.

Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union Major General Gordon Granger announced the end of slavery in Galveston, Texas, in accordance with President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation. Only a handful of states currently observe Juneteenth as a paid holiday.

The US Office of Personnel Management announced Thursday that most federal employees will observe the holiday on Friday since Juneteenth falls on a Saturday this year.

The holiday will be the first federal holiday established since Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983, and will become at least the eleventh federal holiday recognized by the US federal government.

Read more about the law here.

Harris already signed Juneteenth bill in her capacity as Senate president

A spokesperson for the Vice President Kamala Harris tells CNN that she already signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act earlier today in her capacity as president of the Senate.

Harris signed the legislation, which passed the Senate by unanimous consent earlier this week, in a closed-press signing ceremony in the White House East Room.

Harris is still scheduled to deliver remarks soon when President Biden signs the bill into law. CBS News was first to report on Harris’ signing ceremony.

Juneteenth will be the first federal holiday established since Martin Luther King Jr. Day

President Biden is expected to sign a bill this afternoon establishing June 19 as Juneteenth National Independence Day, a US federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.

The President and Vice President Kamala Harris are expected to deliver remarks at 3:30 p.m. ET at the White House on the creation of the federal holiday.

Juneteenth will be the first federal holiday established since Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983, and will become at least the eleventh federal holiday recognized by the US federal government.

The US Office of Personnel Management announced Thursday that most federal employees will observe the holiday on Friday since Juneteenth falls on a Saturday this year.

More on the holiday: Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union Major General Gordon Granger announced the end of slavery in Galveston, Texas, in accordance with President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation. Only a handful of states currently observe Juneteenth as a paid holiday.

The legislation, which was passed by Congress on Wednesday, gained momentum following Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd last year. It was also spurred after Democrats won the White House and control of the House of Representatives and the US Senate.

Activists have long sought broader recognition of Juneteenth

Opal Lee, 93, fought for Juneteenth's recognition.

Juneteenth commemorates the moment in 1865 when news of emancipation reached the enslaved people of Galveston, Texas.

Though the day has often been omitted in history books and overlooked by non-Black Americans, activists and leaders had been pushing for decades to gain greater national recognition for it.

After taking a backseat during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, Juneteenth made a resurgence in the ’80s and ‘90s in communities across the country, with Texas becoming the first state to establish it as a holiday in 1980.

In 1994, leaders from around the nation gathered at Christian Unity Baptist Church in New Orleans to advocate for even greater acknowledgment of June 19’s significance. That meeting would spawn a number of organizations and causes dedicated to commemorating and honoring Juneteenth, including the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation.

In 2000, the group’s founder and chairman Rev. Ronald Myers began a campaign to make it a national day of observance and for all 50 states and US territories to recognize it as a state holiday or observance.

Others, like Opal Lee, fought for Juneteenth’s recognition in less traditional ways.

In 2016, then 89-year-old Lee set out on foot from her home in Fort Worth, Texas, with the goal of reaching the nation’s capital. Determined to see Juneteenth become a national holiday, she hoped that “surely somebody would notice a little old lady in tennis shoes.”

The “grandmother of Juneteenth” continued to push for the effort with an annual 2.5-mile walk in her hometown, symbolizing the two-and-a-half years it took for word of the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation to reach enslaved people in Texas.

Five years later, her efforts paid off.

Congress passed legislation Wednesday that would establish June 19 as Juneteenth National Independence Day, sending the bill to President Biden’s desk for his signature.

Read more about the Juneteenth bill here.

A look back at Juneteenth's path to becoming a federal holiday

For much of US history, Juneteenth has been a date observed mostly by Black Americans commemorating the symbolic end of slavery. Since the reckoning reignited by the killing of George Floyd last year, though, the tide has changed enormously.

All but one state, as well as the District of Columbia, recognize the milestone of Black liberation in some form or another. Numerous companies mark the occasion by giving their employees the day off.

Congress has passed legislation that would establish June 19 as Juneteenth National Independence Day, sending the bill to President Joe Biden’s desk for his signature.

This makes Juneteenth the first holiday approved since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was established in 1983. Getting to this point took longstanding pushes by activists, several legislative attempts and the momentum generated by the Black Lives Matter movement last year.

Congress has, in various years, passed resolutions honoring Juneteenth, but it wasn’t until last year that lawmakers considered making it a national holiday.

At the height of the antiracism protests of last year, Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and Massachusetts Sen. Edward Markey, both Democrats, introduced bills in their respective chambers to make Juneteenth a federal holiday.

Despite broad bipartisan support, however, their effort was unsuccessful, with Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin blocking the measure on the grounds that giving workers another day of paid leave would cost too much.

Jackson Lee and Markey renewed their efforts earlier this year, reintroducing the Juneteenth National Independence Day in February.

This week, Johnson announced he would no longer block the bill from advancing. The Senate unanimously passed the resolution on Tuesday, the House approved the measure Wednesday.

“For far too long, the story of our country’s history has been incomplete as we have failed to acknowledge, address, and come to grips with our nation’s original sin of slavery,” Markey said in a statement on Tuesday.

“Today’s Senate passage of our legislation to commemorate Juneteenth as a federal holiday will address this long-ignored gap in our history, recognize the wrong that was done, acknowledge the pain and suffering of generations of slaves and their descendants, and finally celebrate their freedom.”

Read more about the Juneteenth bill here.

Congress passed a bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday. Here are key things to know.