Congress makes Juneteenth a federal holiday, House passes bill after Senate

For decades, activists have fought for the reverence that the historic anniversary commemorating the symbolic end of slavery in the United States deserves. On Wednesday, Congress finally made the Juneteenth a federal holiday.

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Juneteenth is officially a federal paid holiday in the United States. After passing in the Senate on Tuesday, the House voted on the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act on Wednesday evening and passed it. 

The bill now heads to President Joe Biden’s desk to be signed into law, CNN reports.

For decades, activists like 94-year-old Ms. Opal Lee and 65-year-old Rev. Ronald Myers have fought for the reverence that the historic anniversary commemorating the symbolic end of slavery in the United States deserves.

In the aftermath of global protests against racial injustice in 2020, 2021 saw a wave of cities and states passing legislation to honor the anniversary at the local level. 

Juneteenth is currently recognized by 47 states and the District of Columbia. In 1980, Texas was the first state to recognize Juneteenth as a paid state holiday and since then, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Virginia, and Washington have joined the ranks.

As theGrio previously reported, Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass), Tina Smith (D-Minn), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) reintroduced the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act back in February. 

Considering Congress’s failure to pass critical legislation that serves to immediately protect Black life, such as the George Floyd Justice In Policing Act, the Emmett Till Anti Lynching Act, the For The People Act, and so on, the making of Juneteenth into a federal holiday conjures mixed emotions for many.

Those people believe that official recognition of the holiday is a symbolic victory meant to appease Black voters instead of creating legislation for substantive investment in Black communities, and is all the more ironic amid an ongoing national debate over critical race theory.

“Imagine making Juneteenth a federal holiday when laws are being enacted all over the country that will prevent people from being taught why it’s a holiday,” wrote one Twitter user on Wednesday.

Citing that Juneteenth is about Black liberation, Minister Bernice King tweeted a legislative to-do list that should accompany the holiday, including an end to police brutality, voter suppression, housing discrimination, and health disparities, among other things.

On June 19, 1865, enslaved people in Galveston, Texas were finally informed of the Emancipation Proclamation two-and-a-half years after former President Abraham Lincoln signed it in 1863.

The decree, delivered by General Gordon Grange read in part: “The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.

This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer.”

Juneteenth Emancipation Day Celebration, June 19, 1900, Texas (Credit: Mrs. Charles Stephenson)

Juneteenth honors the memory of those ancestors in Texas and across the country whose lives were changed by their newly freed status.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture has long asserted that Juneteenth is the nation’s Second Independence Day and it will finally be recognized as such. 

The article contains reporting from theGrio’s DeMicia Inman and Ny Magee.

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