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.