On Thursday, President Joe Biden signed a new resolution establishing June 19 as Juneteenth National independence Day, commemorating the day slavery was abolished in the United States. Juneteenth is now the eleventh federal holiday in the U.S., and the first new one since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was officially recognized in 1983.
“Great nations don’t ignore their most painful moments,” Biden said as he signed the resolution. “They don’t ignore those moments in the past. They embrace them. Great nations don’t walk away. We come to terms with the mistakes we made.”
The Senate passed the resolution unanimously earlier this week, sending the bill to the House where it passed 415-14.
“Juneteenth marks both a long, hard night of slavery and a promise of a brighter morning to come,” the president continued. “This is a day of profound wait and profound power. A day which you’ll remember the moral stain, the terrible toll that slavery took on the country and continues to take.”
Vice President Kamala Harris, the nation’s first Black VP, was also on hand for the signing ceremony and offered her own comments, joining Biden in acknowledging the importance of acknowledging all of American history, even its darkest chapters.
“When we establish a national holiday, it makes an important statement,” Harris said. “National holidays are something important. These are days when we as a nation have decided to stop and take stock, and often to acknowledge our history.”
That sentiment might land at a controversial moment, as states around the country are working to block Critical Race Theory from being taught in schools. Tennessee, for example, says it will withhold funds from schools that teach CRT, with Governor Bill Lee arguing that schools should teach “the exceptionalism of our nation,” not things that “inherently divide.”
It’s pretty hard to focus on American exceptionalism while simultaneously honoring the long fight to abolish slavery in the U.S. But then again, that is why we have these holidays: to remember.