With a stroke of his pen, Pres. Biden on Thursday made June 19th – or Juneteenth – the nation’s 12th national holiday.
Passage of the Juneteenth Independence Day legislation recognizes June 19, 1865 as the day enslaved Blacks in Galveston,Tex. were told they were released from chattel bondage. That pronouncement 156 years ago came more than two years after the rest of the nation’s enslaved population was freed. The passage of the new federal holiday comes 48 hours before this year’s Juneteeth is celebrated on Saturday in various states and local communities nationwide.
“It was not the official end of slavery. It would be six more months before the 13th amendment was ratified,” Vice President Kamala Harris told an audience gathered at the White House, a national monument built by enslaved people.
“Juneteenth marks both a long hard night of slavery and subjugation and a promise of a brighter morning to come,” Biden told the White House gathering. “It’s a day in which we remember the moral stain and the terrible toll that slavery took on the country and continues to take. Today I consecrate what Juneteenth must be – a national holiday.”
Biden said his administration is working to increase and bring financial parity to black homeownership and entrepreneurship. He quickly noted however that these tasks and his administration’s agenda “will not be fulfilled so long as the sacred right to vote remains under attack.”
During the ceremony, Biden recognized 94-year-old Texan Opal Lee, who was there for the ceremony, as “The grandmother of the movement to make Juneteenth a national holiday.” When she was 12, a white mob torched her family’s home, Biden said and over the course of her life, she has worked to make Juneteenth a federal holiday.
Fourteen House Republicans – including Georgia Rep. Andrew Clyde – voted against making Juneteenth a federal holiday.
Biden noted that the passage of the new holiday is one of the “greatest honors” of his presidency so far. Georgia Senator Raphael Warnock was among the group of 10 dignitaries asked to come on stage to witness Biden’s signing the bill into law.
It is the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was signed into law in 1983 by then-President Ronald Reagan.
“This is an important moment of reckoning,” Bernice King, the chief executive officer of The King Center and daughter of the late slain civil rights leader, told CNN shortly before Biden signed the bill into law.
While she praised the creation of the new holiday, King noted there is more work to be done and she cited pending legislation in Congress that would move the nation forward toward healing and addressing racial injustice.
“There’s so much that has to happen to deliver substance to the black community. We still face great issues of inequity in our nation,” she said.
The new federal holiday comes as many local governments and school boards are debating a controversial issue known as critical race theory — a 40-year-old academic concept that teaches that racism not only stems from prejudice but is embedded in American society and policies.
As of mid-June, 21 states have introduced bills that would restrict teaching critical race theory or limit how teachers can discuss racism and sexism, according to an Education Week analysis. Arkansas, Florida, Idaho and Oklahoma have passed laws banning the theory. Georgia lawmakers are debating whether to ban critical race theory. So are legislators in Michigan, Tennessee, Texas, the Carolinas, Ohio, South Dakota, Arizona, Kentucky, Utah and New Hampshire.
Meanwhile, the controversy is making the rounds on social media.
Atlanta historian Herman “Skip” Mason talked about the issue on his Facebook page Skip Mason’s Vanishing Black Atlanta History:
“So Juneteenth becomes a national holiday in an atmosphere where local governments are blocking the teaching of the events leading to and following the emancipation of the enslaved,” Mason wrote. “Talking about a total disconnect. While Juneteenth is important, let’s not forget for those of us who are descendants of those enslaved in the South that our “Juneteenth” began on Dec. 31, 1864 in what we call “Watch Night” as our ancestors waited for the anticipated announcement and on January 1, 1865 in what we called Jubilee Day in churches throughout our communities. Later the NAACP would celebrate Jubilee Day on January 1. And the last thing we need is another holiday (as meaningful as it is). We need reparations, increased job wages and the passing of the John Lewis Voter Rights bill and For the People Act.”
Both bills, which seek to strengthen and create easier access to voting, are pending in Congress.
HOW YOU CAN CELEBRATE JUNETEENTH
The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) offers six ways to celebrate Juneteenth.
Atlanta Juneteenth Activities
Juneteenth Atlanta, Centennial Olympic Park, 265 Park Ave., Atlanta W NW, Atlanta, 2 p.m.- 8 p.m.
Gala in the Garden for Neighbor in Need, 50 2nd Ave SE, Atlanta.
For more information, check out SaportaReport’s guide to Juneteeth in Atlanta.”