Senate approves bill to make Juneteenth a national holiday

“As the descendent of slaves, it means a lot to finally recognize the true independence day of melanated people in this country," attorney and activist Gerald Griggs said about steps taken to make Juneteenth a national holiday.

Big news came out of the U.S. Senate Tuesday as they took a huge step toward establishing Juneteenth as a national holiday.

The Senate voted unanimously in passing legislation to honor the significant holiday in the United States. This comes just days before Juneteenth (June 19) — a day commemorating the ending of slavery in America in 1865. Now, the bill heads to the House. 

While the bill is still on the path to becoming law, community members around the nation are acknowledging this moment and this major win for the culture.

“It means a lot as an African American,” attorney and activist Gerald Griggs told theGrio. “As the descendent of slaves, it means a lot to finally recognize the true independence day of melanated people in this country. My hope is that the House will pass it and we will finally have a recognized holiday that celebrates the liberation of Black people in this country.”

Griggs, who serves as Vice President of Atlanta NACCP, shared memories of attending Juneteenth celebrations with his family and expressed how much this moment means to him.

A child runs the the street during the Juneteenth celebration in the Greenwood District on June 19, 2020 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. (Photo by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)

“I’ve celebrated Juneteenth ever since I can remember being a young boy with my uncle and dad, and we will continue that tradition,” Griggs told theGrio.

He also stressed how the power of protesting helps lead to moments of change in legislation and policy.

“This continues to show that protests, amplifying your voice and exercising your power at the ballot work,” Griggs told theGrio. “To our elected officials, thank you for doing what’s right and we expect much more out of them, but this is a big step.”

Griggs plans to honor Juneteenth in Atlanta at a 3-day celebration at Centennial Olympic Park and a parade in East Point in collaboration with Atlanta NAACP, among other events.

Scotty Smart, Atlanta activist, organizer and founder of the SMART Foundation, also spoke with theGrio about what this milestone means to him. 

“I think it’s about time that America faces its ugly truths,” Smart told theGrio. “When we talk about independence in America, we usually speak of the Fourth of July but not all Americans, especially Black Americans, were free at that time. This is a historical moment because we’re finally getting to a place of truth and transparency about this country’s ugly history.”

Five years ago, Smart had a vision to educate and empower the community through an annual Juneteenth celebration in Atlanta. Through his vision, he created the Juneteenth Culture Ball and is looking forward to hosting another powerful experience this Saturday.

“[Juneteenth] was something most Black people didn’t know anything about,” Scotty told theGrio. “So I took it upon myself to put more positivity to our culture to celebrate us, and now it’s turned into a formal event.” 

The Juneteenth legislation was introduced last year by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) on the heels of the uprisings across the world calling for justice for Black lives, per HuffPost. However, there was pushback that stalled the progress. The bill was blocked by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who reportedly shared that he decided to reverse his position on Tuesday.

“It sounds like Congress wants to do it so I’m not going to stand in the way,” Johnson told HuffPost. “I just think it’s kind of odd that now apparently the only way to do [celebrate the end of slavery] is to give 2 million federal workers a paid day off, cost American taxpayers $600 million.”

Juneteenth would become the 11th federal holiday if the bill becomes law, according to HuffPost. This would mean federal workers would be required by law to get the holiday off but there would be no requirement for private businesses to give an off-day to their employees, HuffPost reports.

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