Juneteenth becoming a federal holiday is a movement that started in Texas. It’s a day that commemorates the end of slavery in the United States.
HOUSTON — On Thursday, President Joe Biden signed a bill into law establishing Juneteenth as a federal holiday, with some notable Texans by his side.
It becomes the first new federal holiday in 38 years, the last being MLK Day which was established in 1983.
This was a bipartisan bill, with 415 lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans, on board.
It’s legislation that Opal Lee, 94, of Fort Worth, has been pushing hard for for decades. She started a petition, garnering more than a million signatures, asking for the federal holiday which recognizes June 19, 1865, when the last African-American slaves in the United States, who lived in Galveston, Texas, were told they were free. That was two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
On Thuesday, Lee stood by President Biden’s side and he signed the Juneteenth bill into law.
“Opal Lee,” President Biden said, “you are incredible. Daughter of Texas. Grandmother of the movement to make Juneteenth a Federal holiday.”
“How on earth am I supposed to express the joy?” Lee said in an interview with CBS following the bill signing. “How am I supposed to express all the years that we’ve worked…”
Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee stood next to President Biden and Lee on Thursday during the signing.
“It was an overwhelming experience, particularly to be there with 94-year-old Opal Lee. We are so grateful that she was there in that room,” Jackson Lee said.
Rep. Jackson Lee hopes the new holiday is used as both a celebration and a day to educate others about slavery in the United States and what followed abolition.
This new holiday also means that moving forward, many people will have the day off from work.
“Post offices, banks, anything that relies on that federal monetary system or federal dollars will shut down,” said Dietrich von Biedenfeld, assistant professor at the University of Houston-Downtown.
Biedenfeld expects schools and universities to follow suit next year, too.
As far as private companies giving employees the day off, he likens it to Memorial Day.
“Memorial Day is a somber day of recognizing those who are dead, but we also sometimes find furniture sales or car deals,” he said.
However Juneteenth is celebrated in the future, Thursday marked a recognition that many feel was long overdue.