The holiday observes the end of slavery in the U.S. and marks the day, June 19, 1865, when Union Major General Gordon Granger announced the news to Black Americans in Galveston, Texas—which was two years after President Abraham Lincoln‘s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation.
“By making Juneteenth a federal holiday, all Americans can feel the power of this day and learn from our history, and celebrate progress and grapple with the distance we’ve come [and] the distance we have to travel,” the president said on Thursday, June 17 during the signing ceremony at the White House.
“The truth is,” he continued, “it’s simply not enough just to commemorate Juneteenth. After all, the emancipation of enslaved Black Americans didn’t mark the end of America’s work to deliver on the promise of equality. It only marked the beginning. To honor the true meaning of Juneteenth, we have to continue toward that progress because we’ve not gotten there yet.”