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Biden Signs Into Law Bill Making Juneteenth A Federal Holiday

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Today a new federal holiday is being celebrated. President Biden has signed into law legislation making Juneteenth a national holiday. It's the day enslaved people in Texas were told they were free in 1865, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. And it marks the end of chattel slavery in the confederate states. NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: At the White House ceremony, Vice President Kamala Harris noted that President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation just steps away in the building that itself was constructed by enslaved people. She said we have come far. And we have far to go.

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VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: We must learn from our history. And we must teach our children our history because it is part of our history as a nation. It is part of American history.

NAYLOR: Those looking on included members of Congress from both parties and Opal Lee, A 94-year-old Texas activist who worked to get the day declared a national holiday. President Biden said signing the bill would go down as one of the greatest honors he will have as president.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Great nations don't walk away. We come to terms with the mistakes we made. In remembering those moments, we began to heal and grow stronger.

NAYLOR: Juneteenth becomes the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Day was established in 1983. That measure took years to get through Congress, unlike Juneteenth, which flew through the Senate unanimously Tuesday and passed overwhelmingly in the House Wednesday. And the Biden administration wasted no time announcing most federal workers have been given the day off today. However, that doesn't apply to the U.S. Postal Service, which says while it supports the holiday, it's not possible to cease its operations on such short notice.

Brian Naylor NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.