From left, Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio
From left, Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, and Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., and members of the Congressional Black Caucus celebrate the passage of the Juneteenth Act.

U.S. President Joe Biden signed into a law Thursday the creation of a new federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.

Juneteenth National Independence Day will be observed each year on June 19.

"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," Biden said. 

The holiday marks the day in 1865 when Union soldiers informed a group of enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas, of their freedom, 2½ years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

During his remarks Thursday, Biden honored Opal Lee, 94, an activist often referred to as the "Grandmother of Juneteenth," who received a standing ovation.

Lee has been pushing for national recognition of Juneteenth for over 40 years — most recently in 2016 — launching "Opal's Walk 2 DC" in hopes of gaining congressional support for naming the date a federal holiday. 

Many U.S. states already have Juneteenth as a holiday.

It joins 10 other federal holidays and is the first added since Martin Luther King Jr. Day became a holiday in 1983.

The legislation to create the holiday arrives at Biden’s desk after receiving approval through unanimous consent in the Senate on Tuesday and passing the House of Representatives in a 415-14 vote on Wednesday. 

What Is Juneteenth?
VOA explains why June 19 is an important date in America's history