Biden, in what he called “one of the greatest honors” of his presidency, signed the bill two days before Juneteenth itself, which is on June 19 each year.
“We have come far, and we have far to go. But today is a day of celebration,” said Vice President Kamala Harris, who spoke before the president at the signing event in the White House.
“Great nations don’t ignore their most painful moments,” Biden told the East Room crowd, which included dozens of politicians, activists and community leaders. “They embrace them.”
“In short, this day doesn’t just celebrate the past. It calls for action today,” Biden said.
Juneteenth National Independence Day will become the 12th legal public holiday, including Inauguration Day, and the first new one created since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was signed into law in 1983 by then-President Ronald Reagan.
Juneteenth celebrates the emancipation of the last enslaved African Americans. On that day in 1865, Union soldiers led by Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in the coastal city of Galveston, Texas, to deliver General Order No. 3, officially ending slavery in the state.
The final act of liberation came months after the Confederate army’s surrender ended the Civil War, and more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation Lincoln was assassinated on April 15, 1865, two months before his proclamation made it to Texas.