Black Americans rejoiced Thursday after President Joe Biden made Juneteenth a federal holiday, but some said that, while they appreciated the recognition at a time of racial reckoning in America, more is needed to change policies that disadvantage too many of their brethren. “It’s great, but it’s not enough,” said Gwen Grant, president and CEO of the Urban League of Kansas City. Grant said she was delighted by the quick vote this week by Congress to make Juneteenth a national holiday because “it’s been a long time coming.”
But she added that “we need Congress to protect voting rights, and that needs to happen right now so we don’t regress any further. That is the most important thing Congress can be addressing at this time.”
At a jubilant White House bill-signing ceremony, Biden agreed that more than a commemoration of the events of June 19, 1865, is needed. That’s when Union soldiers brought the news of freedom to enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas — some 2 1/2 years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had freed slaves in Southern states.
“This day doesn’t just celebrate the past. It calls for action today,” Biden said before he established Juneteenth National Independence Day. His audience included scores of members of Congress and Opal Lee, a 94-year-old Texas woman who campaigned for the holiday.