WASHINGTON (AP) — Black Americans rejoiced Thursday after President Joe Biden made Juneteenth a federal holiday, but some said that, while they appreciated the recognition at a time of racial reckoning in America, more is needed to change policies that disadvantage too many of their brethren.
“It’s great, but it’s not enough,” said Gwen Grant, president and CEO of the Urban League of Kansas City. Grant said she was delighted by the quick vote this week by both chambers of Congress to make Juneteenth a federal holiday because “it’s been a long time coming.”
But she added that “we need Congress to protect voting rights, and that needs to happen right now so we don’t regress any further. That is the most important thing Congress can be addressing at this time.”
At a jubilant White House bill-signing ceremony, Biden agreed that more than a commemoration of the events of June 19, 1865, is needed. That’s when Union soldiers brought the news of freedom to enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas — some 2 1/2 years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had freed slaves in Southern states.
“This day doesn’t just celebrate the past. It calls for action today,” Biden said before he established Juneteenth National Independence Day.
Most federal workers will observe the holiday on Friday. Juneteenth is the 12th federal holiday, including Inauguration Day once every four years. It’s also the first federal holiday since the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday was created in 1983.
Before June 19 became a federal holiday, it was observed in the vast majority of states and the District of Columbia. Texas was first to make Juneteenth a holiday in 1980.
The signing of the bill comes two weeks after Broward County Commissioner Dale Holness signed a proclamation designating June 19 as Juneteenth Celebration Day in Broward County. In making the proclamation, Holness noted that the culture of racism in America has impacted the lives of minorities in almost every way.
Commissioner Holness and the entire commission were hailed by Broward residents, including Caribbean-Americans, for recognizing Juneteenth in the county.
In recent years, the states of New York, Virginia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts declared June 19 an official state holiday. North Miami Beach, Tamarac, and Pembroke Pines have also approved June 19 as an official paid holiday.
Most federal workers will observe the holiday on Friday. Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced that state and city government offices will be closed Friday in honor of Juneteenth. District of Columbia public schools will also be closed Friday.