SEATTLE — President Joe Biden this week signed legislation establishing a new federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery — a move lawmakers made for Washington state earlier this year.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee last month signed a measure making Juneteenth a legal state paid holiday, starting in 2022. In 2007, the Legislature had designated Juneteenth as a day of remembrance.
Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers brought the news of freedom to enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas — two months after the Confederacy had surrendered. That was also about 2½ years after the Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in the Southern states.
It’s the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was created in 1983. One of the federal holidays, Inauguration Day, happens every four years.
As Biden was signing into law Thursday the bill recognizing Juneteenth as a federal holiday, a senior center in Seattle was already celebrating the traditional African American holiday.
Among the revelers was Larry Gossett, who is a former longtime King County councilmember and activist in Seattle.
“I think that kind of a recognition is long overdue. As an African-American who is a descendant of slaves from Texas, I am particularly thrilled by that recognition,” he said.
Lynda Greene, executive director of the Southeast Seattle Senior Center, said “we’re just glad that the rest of the country now is part of our celebration.”
Greene said the recognition was “bittersweet” for most American-Americans.
“It’s a reflection of where we’ve been as a country and to finally have a significant day acknowledged by the political folks here, that’s meaningful, but also celebrating Juneteenth brings back a lot of sad memories because I know that my grandparents and my great grandparents were part of that transition,” Green said. “So it makes me sad on one hand, but it makes me feel very, very proud that at least the nation is now understanding what Juneteenth is all about.”