Vice President Harris on Thursday also signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, a procedural step she carried out in her capacity as Senate president.
President Biden signed the bill into law afterward, creating a federal holiday to commemorate Juneteenth, the day enslaved African Americans were emancipated in Texas.
Harris signing the bill is a reminder of her barrier-shattering election as the nation’s first Black vice president, as well as its first woman and first Asian American in the role.
“Throughout history, Juneteenth has been known by many names: Jubilee Day, Freedom Day, Liberation Day, Emancipation Day, and today, a national holiday,” Harris said to applause at a White House event to mark the bill’s passage.
Harris said it was important to acknowledge the history of Juneteenth as they established the newest national holiday. On June 19, 1865, the enslaved people of Galveston, Tex., learned that they were free — even though the Emancipation Proclamation had ended slavery in the Confederacy two and a half years earlier, Harris recounted.
“For more than two years, the enslaved people of Texas were kept in servitude,” Harris said. “They were intentionally kept from their freedom for more than two years. And then on that summer day, 156 years ago, the enslaved people of Texas learned the news. They learned that they were free and they claimed their freedom. It was indeed an important day.”
Harris urged people to “stop and take stock” of what Juneteenth meant so that Americans could learn from the past.
“So as we commemorate the history of Juneteenth, as we did just weeks ago with the history of the Tulsa Race Massacre, we must learn from our history and we must teach our children our history because it is part of our history as a nation,” Harris said. “It is part of American history.”
Tyler Pager contributed to this report.