To recognize the end of slavery, the United States will soon have a federal holiday on June 19th, also known as Juneteenth.
On June 16, the US House of Representatives voted 415-14, in favor of what will be the 12th federal holiday. Now, the bill will be handed over to President Joe Biden to sign so it can be brought into law.
The historical significance of the day can be traced back to June 19 in 1865 when enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas, were brought news of freedom by the Union soldiers. The event took place two months post the surrender of the Confederacy i.e. approximately two and a half years after slaves in the Southern states were freed by the Emancipation Proclamation.
Since Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983, there has been no new federal holiday. Representative and New York Democrat Carolyn Maloney explaining that federal holidays are purposefully few in order to recognize the most important milestones said, “I cannot think of a more important milestone to commemorate than the end of slavery in the United States.” Similarly, Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey likened Juneteenth to be a pertinent reminder of what is missing today: “And that is full access to justice, freedom, and equality. All these are often in short supply as it relates to the Black community,” she stated.
Under a unanimous consent agreement, the Senate passed the bill a day prior so that the legislative process can be expedited. Under the legislation, June 19th would be commemorated as Juneteenth National Independence Day. This name upset Representative and Louisiana Republican Clay Higgins as he vouched for the inclusion of the term “emancipation” rather than “independence.” Representative Brenda Lawrence of Michigan countered Higgins’ view, noting that, “We have a responsibility to teach every generation of Black and white Americans the pride of a people who have survived, endured and succeeded in these United States of America despite slavery.”