Now a federally recognized holiday, Juneteenth commemorates the day a Union general arrived in Galveston, Texas in 1865 to inform the enslaved they were free. 94-year-old Opal Lee has advocated for this federal commemoration for decades.
"It's not a Black thing. It's not a Texas thing. None of us are free until we are all free," Lee told CNN earlier this week.
Lee and the NAACP argue they want Juneteenth to be accompanied by the advancement of laws to protect voting rights, reform policing and make health care more equitable.
"As we work toward substantive pieces of legislation to protect voting rights and create transparency and accountability in policing, we are encouraged by today’s signing of the Juneteenth bill. It is a reminder that freedom is an ongoing fight," said NAACP President Derrick Johnson in a statement.
"There are too many disparities. I'm talking about health care. I can get waited on for something and you can't because you don't have insurance," said Lee.
Fourteen House Republicans opposed the designation of Juneteenth as a federal holiday. Some argued the country should not have two Independence Days. Among those opposing the law: Northern Kentucky Congressman Thomas Massie.
"Naming this day National Independence Day will create confusion and push Americans to pick one of those two days as their Independence Day based on their racial identity," he said on the House floor Wednesday.
Massie doubled down Friday morning, suggesting federal workers don't need another day off.
"Last week, had you asked Americans whether federal employees should get 11 paid holidays instead of 10, most would have said no. This week, you’re apt to be labeled a racist if you didn’t vote for the 11th paid federal holiday," Massie tweeted.
The commemoration of Juneteenth comes as conservatives across the country push back against how the history and consequences of racism is taught in public schools, raising questions about how the legacy behind the country's newest holiday will be framed for future generations.
"The schools need to have the truth and let young people know what actually happened and let's begin the healing," said Lee.