The event was carried on cable news and broadcast networks.
The holiday commemorates African Americans’ freedom from slavery, and has long been observed in local and state celebrations. It was on June 19, 1865 that enslaved Black Americans in Galveston, TX, learned that they were free, and their first celebration turned into an annual event.
“Today we consecrate Juneteenth for what it ought to be, what it must be, a national holiday,” Biden said in the East Room of the White House.
At the ceremony, Biden called for passage of voting rights legislation, expected to come before the Senate next week, and also highlighted other parts of his agenda. As he has many times before, he also urged Americans to get vaccinated.
“We can’t rest until the promise of equality is fulfilled for every one of us, in every corner of this nation,” Biden said. “That to me is the meaning of Juneteenth.”
Joining Biden at the ceremony was Opal Lee, 94, the activist who is known as the “grandmother of the movement to make Juneteenth a federal holiday.”
He described how, on Juneteenth 1939, when Lee was 12 years old, a white mob torched her family home.
“Such hate never stopped her,” Biden said. “…Over the course of decades she has made it her mission to see that this day came.”
Also with Biden as he signed the legislation were a handful of Senate and House lawmakers, including a Republican, John Cornyn of Texas, who co-sponsored the legislation establishing the date as a federal holiday. Juneteenth will be the first new federal holiday created since 1983, when Martin Luther King Jr. Day was established.
“I hope this is the beginning of a change in the way we deal with one another,” Biden said.
Earlier this week, the Senate passed legislation unanimously to make Juneteenth a federal holiday, and the House voted 415-14 on Wednesday, sending the bill to Biden’s desk.
Juneteenth actually lands on Saturday this year, but the U.S. Office of Personnel Management announced that the holiday would be observed with paid time off for most federal workers on Friday. California recognizes Juneteenth, but it is not a state holiday for employees.
Here’s a summary of what will be open and closed. The information is being updated.
Federal courts: Most will be closed, including those in the Los Angeles, D.C. and New York districts, as well as the Supreme Court. Some locations are advising that certain trials and hearings may still proceed, depending on the individual judge.
Mail service: Mail service will proceed as normal on Friday and Saturday. A spokesperson says, “Unfortunately, it is not possible to cease the operations of the Postal Service to accommodate an observance over the next 24-48 hours. We are part of the nation’s critical infrastructure and our customers are relying on us to deliver our essential services. Closing down our operations without providing appropriate time would lead to operational disruptions and be a disservice to our customers and those who rely upon us.” The USPS said that they will discuss future recognition of the holiday.
Stock markets: The New York Stock Exchange and NASDAQ will be open, but the exchanges are expected to meet to determine whether to close in future years. Some banks will close early.
Talent agencies: CAA, ICM Partners, UTA and WME all will be closed Friday.
Unions: SAG-AFTRA offices will be closed.