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President Biden Makes Juneteenth Federal Holiday

President Joe Biden has signed a bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday.

Many federal workers around the country will observe the holiday on Friday, June 18, since June 19 falls on a Saturday this year.

The bill, titled the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, was approved in the House with a vote of 415-14 on Wednesday, after passing unanimously through the Senate on Tuesday.

Juneteenth, which takes place annually on June 19, marks the true end of slavery in the United States. It commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union Army General Gordon Granger proclaimed freedom from slavery in the state of Texas, nearly two years after the Emancipation Proclamation. The holiday has been celebrated in 47 states and the District of Columbia, but now will be recognized on a national level.

On Tuesday, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) — who blocked the bill from passing last year — dropped his objection to the holiday.

“While it still seems strange that having taxpayers provide federal employees paid time off is now required to celebrate the end of slavery, it is clear that there is no appetite in Congress to further discuss the matter,” Johnson said in a press release. “Therefore, I do not intend to object.”

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Rep. Sheila Jackson (D-Texas) first proposed the bill last summer amid national protests over the murder of George Floyd, but it did not garner enough support. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), along with 60 co-sponsors.

Opal Lee, a 94-year-old activist known as the “Grandmother of Juneteenth,” attended the bill signing with President Biden and Vice President Harris. Each year on June 19, Lee makes a symbolic two-and-a-half mile walk in various cities to draw awareness to Juneteenth and rally support for the newly made holiday. She will be honored at Variety’s 2021 Changemakers summit.

“It’s really humbling,” Lee tells Variety of all the people who’ve joined her campaign. “I’m just overwhelmed at the support. I’m overwhelmed at the people who didn’t know about Juneteenth and it’s just coming to their attention.”

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