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U.S. President Joe Biden gives the thumbs up to the audience before signing the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law in the East Room of the White House on June 17, 2021 in Washington, DC. The Juneteenth holiday marks the end of slavery in the United States and the Juneteenth National Independence Day will become the 12th legal federal holiday — the first new one since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was signed into law in 1983.

States across the country are scrambling to close their government offices today (June 18) after President Joe Biden signed legislation establishing Juneteenth as a US federal holiday.

Juneteenth takes place on June 19th, which commemorates the date in 1865 when Union Army Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas, and told slaves of their emancipation. That day came more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. Even after Lincoln declared all enslaved people free on paper, the news didn’t travel quickly back then.

Since this federally recognized holiday lands on a Saturday this year, governors across the country announced in quick succession a range of plans for their state offices for today (the closest workday to the new holiday), CNN reports. Many states like Maryland, Nebraska, Missouri, West Virginia and Alabama will give most public employees the day off, but government workers in other states, like California, will have to wait to feel the effect of the new law.

“It is encouraging to see bipartisan efforts to recognize the importance of Juneteenth,” a spokesperson for California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office said in a statement. “The Governor issues a proclamation each year to celebrate this important day. At the state level, establishing a holiday usually requires legislation and collective bargaining.”

Likewise in Washington, DC, “many District employees will continue serving to maintain essential District operations.” This includes vaccination sites, the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Department of Parks and Recreation. Although the District’s schools will be closed, high school graduation ceremonies will commence.

 

On the federal level, the US Office of Personnel Management announced in a memo that most federal employees would have Friday off, saying, “Agencies should direct such employees to not report to work on Friday — unless the agency determines that their services are required. If employees are required to work during qualifying holiday hours, they will earn holiday premium pay.”

Juneteenth is the first holiday to be approved since Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which was established in 1983.