President Biden set to sign bill into law at 3:30 p.m.

by Robin Kemp

President Joe Biden is set to sign into law a bill recognizing June 19–better known as Juneteenth–a federal holiday.

U.S. Senators Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff are scheduled to be present at the ceremony.

Watch the signing livestream from the White House here:

YouTube video

Following the U.S. House and Senate passage of the bill, which Opal Lee, 94, of Fort Worth, TX fought for by lacing up her tennis shoes and walking every year for the past five years.

Lee said she was determined to make it happen: “I was about 89, I’m pushing 90. And I don’t see anything I’ve done, and I feel like there is something more that I can do. My idea was to walk from Fort Worth to Washington, D.C., and that surely somebody would notice a little old lady in tennis shoes. If I left in September 2016, I got to Washington on January 10th, 2017.”

Every year, she commemorates Juneteenth by walking 2.5 miles in Galveston, TX, marking the years that Blacks there remained in slavery two and a half years beyond the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862. Historians say this delay happened because communication over long distances took so much longer in the 1860s. Texas was on the other side of the Deep South from Washington, D.C. and there were not nearly enough Union soldiers there to enforce President Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation. Only when Union Major General Gordon Granger arrived with 2,000 Union troops and published General Order No. 3 did enslaved Blacks in Galveston hear that they had been liberated. 

Since then, Black Americans have celebrated Juneteenth each year.

Rep. David Scott (D-13) told Republican lawmakers, “All we’re asking is for you to express the feeling and the depths of the African-American people today who need you, all of us, white and black members of Congress, to stand together and vote yes.”

Rep. David Scott (D-13) made this impassioned speech on the House floor, urging Republican colleagues to pass the measure:

“To some of my Republican friends, let me just say to you, if our African-American slave ancestors were here today, they would say to you that, you know, ‘Them that’s got should get, them that’s not shall lose, ’cause the Bible says and it still is news. Your mama may have, and your papa may have, but God bless the child that’s got his own.’ God bless the child who can say ‘I’m free.’ Two hundred years in the deep slavery South, but God put hope in our hearts and a song in our mouth. All we are asking is for you to express the feeling and the depths of the African-American people today who need you, all of us, white and Black members of Congress, to stand together and vote yes. And vote yes. And by doing so, you will say not ‘This is my country.’ You will say, in one united voice, ‘This is our country, Black and white, this is our country, the greatest country, and we thank God Almighty for this blessing.’ Please, let us do as the Senate. Vote unanimously, unanimously for passage of this bill.”

Rep. David Scott (D-13) in favor of passing the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act

The House voted 415-14 on June 16 to pass the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act. On Tuesday, June 15, the Senate voted unanimously for passage.

The only Georgia lawmaker to vote against the Juneteenth holiday was Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-9). On Wednesday, Clyde also refused to shake the hand of wounded Capitol Police officer Michael Fanone when the two met in an elevator.

Closer to home, Rep. Nikema Williams will serve as grand marshal of East Point’s Juneteenth Celebration of Freedom Festival and parade, held in partnership with the NAACP Atlanta Branch. The parade steps off at 11 a.m. from East Point First Mallalieu United Methodist Church, 2651 N. Church Street and ends on Ware Street near the Downtown Commons, 2757 East Point Street. The festival will run until 7 p.m. and features over 200 parade participants, more than 50 vendors, food, live music, and a youth talent show. Admission is free.

The Galveston Historical Foundation will livestream this historic Juneteenth celebration starting at 9:45 a.m. this Saturday, June, 19. Visit GHF’s Juneteenth and General Order No. 3 page to watch Galveston’s festivities and to learn more about Juneteenth.