Biden makes Juneteenth a U.S. federal holiday, commemorating end of slavery


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Black Americans rejoiced Thursday after U.S. President Joe Biden made Juneteenth, June 19, a federal holiday, but some said that, while they appreciated the recognition at a time of racial reckoning in the country, 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 two and a half 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. His audience included scores of members of Congress and Opal Lee, a 94-year-old Texas woman who campaigned for the holiday.

Biden speaks with Opal Lee after the signing. (Evan Vucci/The Associated Press)

Efforts to limit education 

Biden singled out voting rights as an area for action.

Republican-led states have enacted or are considering legislation that activists argue would curtail the right to vote, particularly for people of colour. Legislation to address voting rights issues, and institute policing reforms demanded after the killing of George Floyd and other unarmed Black men, remains stalled in the Congress that acted swiftly on the Juneteenth bill.

Other people want the federal government to make reparations or financial payments to the descendants of slaves in an attempt to compensate for those wrongs.

Meanwhile, efforts are afoot across the country to limit what school districts teach about the history of slavery in the U.S.

Community organizer Kimberly Holmes-Ross, who helped make her hometown of Evanston, Ill., the first U.S. city to pay reparations, said she was happy about the new federal holiday because it will lead more people to learn about Juneteenth.

But she would have liked Congress to act on anti-lynching legislation or voter protections first.

“I am not super stoked only because all of the other things that are still going on,” said Holmes-Ross, 57. “You haven’t addressed what we really need to talk about.”

WATCH | Juneteenth, June 19, is now a federal holiday in the U.S.:

U.S. President Joe Biden signs bill making June 19th a national holiday. Juneteenth marks the day in 1865 when legal enslavement of African Americans was abolished. But there are…

Read More: Biden makes Juneteenth a U.S. federal holiday, commemorating end of slavery

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