MIAMI (WSVN) - South Florida’s Black community said President Joe Biden signing a bill into law that recognizes Juneteenth as a federal holiday has been a long time coming.

Staff at the Black Archives Historic Lyric Theater in Miami’s Overtown neighborhood watched the president sign the bill that makes Juneteenth, or June 19, a federal holiday on Thursday.

“Being able to watch it is just surreal,” Black Archives Historic Lyric Theater Director Timothy A. Barber said. “Being in this historic venue that was built by a Black man in 1913 and sharing with the people that work in this field daily, it’s a surreal moment.”

Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers announced to slaves in Galveston, Texas that the Civil War had ended, and they were now free. That was more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Abraham Lincoln.

“What a greater moment to experience history in a building that is all about history,” Black Archives Historic Lyric Theater Finance Controller Angelic Jeffers said. “This is the first step forward in making more things happen.”

Juneteenth becoming a federal holiday has been a long time coming for many in the Black community in South Florida.

“Definitely a moment of celebration to see the acknowledgement, and that’s the biggest thing: the acknowledgment nationally,” Barber said.

Prior to the bill arriving at the president’s desk, on Wednesday, the House voted overwhelmingly in favor of making Juneteenth the 12th federal holiday, 415-14.

“This is what we need on every level on them to work together, come together and do something for the common good and the greater good for everyone in the United States of America,” Jeffers said.

Barber said Juneteenth being recognized as a federal holiday is an important milestone, but he believes there is still a lot of work to be done.

“Without reparations, it’s just that, it’s just a Band-Aid over a 400-year-old wound in America,” Barber said.

He said he hopes the new holiday will have a lasting impact on generations to come.

“We’re hoping this will be a tool that people can use to talk about other levels of history, talk about Florida history,” Barber said.

The first federally recognized Juneteenth is Saturday.

Copyright 2023 Sunbeam Television Corp. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Join our Newsletter for the latest news right to your inbox