US President Joe Biden signed off on Thursday on legislation making the day that celebrates the emancipation of Black Americans from slavery a federal holiday.
Biden said that by making Juneteenth, marked on June 19, a federal holiday "all Americans can feel the power of this day, and learn from our history, and celebrate the progress and grapple with the distance we have to travel."
"Great nations don't ignore their most painful moments. They don't ignore those moments in the past, they embrace them," he said at the White House. "We come to terms with the mistakes we made. In remembering those moments we begin to heal, and grow stronger."
Congress alone has the ability to designate federal holidays, and a legislation to do so had to clear both the House and Senate before Biden could lend his pen to it to sign it into law. Several states, however, had previously either entered legislation to make Juneteenth a paid holiday for state workers, or have already declared the day a holiday.
While former President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation was declared Jan. 1, 1863 amid the then-ongoing Civil War it took two more years until the Confederacy, which had gone to war in the hopes of preserving the right to legally enslave Black people, was defeated.
On June 19, 1865 union forces brought word to those enslaved in Galveston, Texas that they were now free.
The day has been commemorated by Black Americans since the 1800's. It has been designated a holiday in Texas for four decades.
Vice President Kamala Harris, the first Black woman to hold the title, said that as the US prepares to mark Juneteenth as a federal holiday for the first time "we must learn from our history, and we must teach our children our history, because it is part of our history as a nation."
“We have come far, and we have far to go, but today is a day of celebration. It is not only a day of pride, it is also a day to reaffirm and rededicate ourselves to action.”