By Dick Brennan

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — New Yorkers reacted Thursday as President Joe Biden signed a bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday.

“We can’t overlook the small steps that the country is taking to recognize something so important,” said Amona White, a math teacher in the Bronx.

READ MORE: Juneteenth 2021: Tri-State Area Events Honoring Liberation Of America’s Last Enslaved People

White sees the signing of the Juneteenth National Independence Day into law as an important move on a long road to justice.

“Now we can all celebrate as one because we are all still in the process of being liberated, but this is a good step in the right direction,” White told CBS2’s Dick Brennan.

June 19, 1865, was the day a Union general arrived in Galveston, Texas, to inform enslaved people they were free — two months after the end of the Civil War and two years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Ninety-four-year-old Opal Lee was the driving force behind making Juneteenth a federal holiday.

“How on earth am I supposed to express the joy?” she said. “How am I supposed to express all the years that we’ve worked, and to come to fruition on the backs of so many people?”

Juneteenth has become a day to celebrate Black history and culture.

READ MORE: Organizers Expect More Than A Thousand At Juneteenth Celebration, Parade In Asbury Park, NJ

Rehearsals have begun for this weekend’s Juneteenth NYC festival in Brooklyn’s Herbert Von King Park.

“So really looking at supporting the community overall over the entire weekend,” festival organizer Athenia Rodney said.

People hope the new Juneteenth holiday leads to a fresh dialogue.

“We gotta get people talking with each other and listening to each other. That’s something that’s been woefully missing in our country the last several years,” author and civil rights activist Kevin Powell said.

He says national demonstrations have triggered a new national dialogue.

“I have hope, I have optimism, but it’s gonna take all of us being willing to sit down at the table and having some difficult, sometimes uncomfortable conversations,” Powell said.

Most federal offices will be closed Friday, but the post office will remain open.

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Juneteenth has been a New York state holiday since 2020. State workers get a day off, but if they are required to work, they get a comp day.

Dick Brennan