President Joe Biden signed legislation making Juneteenth a federal holiday on Thursday, calling it “one of the greatest honours” of his presidency.
During a ceremony in the White House’s East Room, he signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, flanked by Vice President Kamala Harris and politicians who supported the measure.
The statute designates June 19, the official date of the abolition of slavery, as a federal holiday.
“Great nations don’t ignore painful moments,” Biden said. “They don’t ignore those moments in the past. They embrace them.
“I have to say to you, I’ve only been president for several months, but I think this will go down, for me, as one of the greatest honors I will have as president.”
The new holiday will cost the government about $600 million each year in paid time off for federal employees.
The law was overwhelmingly approved by the Senate on Tuesday and by the House on Wednesday, 415-14.
Because June 19 falls on a Saturday this year, federal employees will get Friday off, according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.
In 1865, the final sections of the Confederacy were emancipated from slavery in Galveston, Texas.
Juneteenth became a state holiday in Texas in 1980, and a proposal to make it a federal holiday was first submitted in the Senate in 1996. It is also known as Liberation Day, Jubilee Day, and Freedom Day.
Juneteenth is currently the 12th federal holiday of the year, and the first since Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983.