Yesterday, the Senate unanimously passed a measure to make Juneteenth, the day that commemorates the end of slavery in the United States, a federal holiday.
The bill will now be sent to the House of Representatives for approval. If passed by the House and subsequently signed into law by President Biden, June 19th will be established as Juneteenth National Independence Day.
Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), and Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) have spearheaded the effort to establish Juneteenth as a U.S. holiday.
On June 19, 1865, the last enslaved African Americans learned they were free. Two years after the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation was signed by President Abraham Lincoln, Union Major General Gordon Granger announced to enslaved people in Galveston, Texas that they had been emancipated. Since 1865, Juneteenth has been celebrated informally. In 1980, Texas was the first state to name Juneteenth a state holiday.
The majority of U.S. states already acknowledge Juneteenth as an official holiday. However, only a few mark June 19 as a paid holiday.
According to a survey conducted by The Harris Poll last summer, two-thirds of Americans believe that June 19 should be declared an official holiday.
Many view the Senate’s action as one step toward addressing the ongoing conversation about systemic racism in the United States. “Making Juneteenth a federal holiday is a major step forward to recognize the wrongs of the past, but we must continue to work to ensure equal justice and fulfill the promise of the Emancipation Proclamation and our Constitution,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY).
Sources: CNN 6/15/21; CNN 6/17/20; CNBC 6/15/21; NPR 6/15/21; The Harris Poll 6/19/20