Juneteenth becomes a federal holiday

By Meg Wagner, Melissa Mahtani, Melissa Macaya, Veronica Rocha and Fernando Alfonso III, CNN

Updated 10:56 PM ET, Thu June 17, 2021
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5:40 p.m. ET, June 17, 2021

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

From CNN's Maureen Chowdhury, Annie Grayer and Daniella Diaz

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

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.

"We can't forget that it's ceremonial, holidays are points of recognition, what is needed though, is substance," King said.

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

4:14 p.m. ET, June 17, 2021

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.

4:22 p.m. ET, June 17, 2021

Most federal employees will observe the Juneteenth federal holiday on Friday

From CNN's Kate Sullivan

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.

5:27 p.m. ET, June 17, 2021

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 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. Evan Vucci/AP

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:

4:01 p.m. ET, June 17, 2021

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.

8:59 p.m. ET, June 17, 2021

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

Evan Vucci/AP
Evan Vucci/AP

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.

8:55 p.m. ET, June 17, 2021

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

From CNN's Kate Sullivan

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.

3:28 p.m. ET, June 17, 2021

Harris already signed Juneteenth bill in her capacity as Senate president

From CNN's DJ Judd

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.

 

2:37 p.m. ET, June 17, 2021

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

From CNN's Kate Sullivan

Patrick Semansky/AP
Patrick Semansky/AP

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.