In front of dozens of activists and legislators, President Joe Biden signed the law to commemorate the date that more than 250,000 black slaves first received the news that they were free.
The president of the United States, Joe Biden, signed a law on Thursday declaring June 19, known as "Juneteenth," as a new national holiday to reflect on the date of 1865 when the last black slaves knew they were free.
"This is a day of deep weight and great strength, a day in which we are reminded of the moral stain and the terrible price that slavery has paid for the country, and its price continues to rise," Biden said. In a speech at the White House.
Before dozens of activists and legislators, the president highlighted the historical importance of the declaration as a national holiday of "Juneteenth, "a play on words with June and the pronunciation of 19 in English, and that it was already a date of celebration for the African-American community.
"The great nations do not ignore their most painful moments; they do not ignore those moments of the past. They receive them with open arms; the great nations do not flee; they understand the mistakes that have been made. And by remembering those moments, we begin to heal and grow stronger, "said Biden.
Slaves who didn't know they were free
Before Biden spoke, the US Vice President, Kamala Harris, the first African-American person to hold that position and told the story behind the new holiday.
The "Juneteenth," he explained, commemorates the date when more than 250,000 black slaves first received the news that they were free.
Specifically, what happened was that Union General Gordon Granger entered the port of Galveston (Texas) to announce the defeat of the Confederacy in the Civil War two months earlier and to proclaim that "all slaves" were free.
Until then, the slaves did not know they had been freed because the Texas slavers had refused to accept the order given two years earlier by then-President Abraham Lincoln to abolish slavery.
"For two years, the people of Texas continued restricted. For more than two years, his freedom was intentionally restricted. For two years!" Harris stressed.
However, as the vice president recalled, despite Granger's intervention, some southern states continued to have slaves for six more months until the 13th amendment of the Constitution was ratified in December 1865 to formally prohibit this inhumane practice.
Almost total support from both parties
The approval of "Juneteenth" as a holiday comes when the United States is trying to reflect on its turbulent history and in the aftermath of protests against racism that last year followed the death of African-American George Floyd, suffocated by a white police officer.
Of the 50 US states, 48 already recognized the holiday, but the Floyd protests united some Democratic and Republican legislators.
Despite the agreement between politicians of very different ideologies, until now, the biggest obstacle had been Republican Senator Ron Johnson, who argued that creating a new federal holiday would cost the state coffers $ 600 million a year because they would have to pay a day of payroll to 2 million public employees.
This week, however, Johnson announced by surprise that he would no longer oppose the law, clearing the way for its enactment.
The two parties approved it unanimously in the Senate on Tuesday. A day later, the House of Representatives endorsed the initiative, with only 14 Republican lawmakers voting against it.
One of them, Matt Rosendale of Montana, called the measure an effort "from the left" to "make Americans feel bad and convince them that the homeland is the devil."
Other Republicans have opposed the holiday because it will bear the name "National Independence Day Juneteenth" and consider that this denomination seeks to conflict with the US Independence Day, celebrated every July 4.
Despite the reluctance of Republicans, the debate was much easier than when Congress created in 1983 the holiday to commemorate the birth of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., which is celebrated every year on the third Monday in January. On this occasion, the debate in Congress continued for 15 years.
With the approval of "Juneteenth" as a holiday, the US already has 12 holidays. These dates, however, are only mandatory in the public sector. This year, since June 19 falls on a Saturday, federal employees will have tomorrow Friday off.