President Joe Biden is set to sign a bill on Thursday that will establish June 19 as Juneteenth National Independence Day, officially making it the eleventh federal holiday observed by the U.S. government. It’s the first federal holiday to be established since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was accepted in 1983.
Juneteenth celebrates the day in 1865 when Black slaves in Galveston, Texas, learned that they were free under the passing of the Emancipation Proclamation. The Juneteenth legislation passed by a unanimous vote in the Senate on Tuesday, and that was followed by another passing vote in the House of Representatives on Wednesday by a vote of 415 to 14.
In 2020, a bill that attempted to establish Juneteenth as a federal holiday was blocked in Congress by Sen. Ron Johnson, who said its passage would cost U.S. taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. However, he put aside those objections this year after Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) reintroduced the bill in February.
“Although I strongly support celebrating Emancipation, I objected to the cost and lack of debate," Johnson said in a statement. "While it still seems strange that having taxpayers provide federal employees paid time off is now required to celebrate the end of slavery, it is clear that there is no appetite in Congress to further discuss the matter.”
A momentous day
Despite Johnson’s objections, many lawmakers celebrated the passage of the bill and described it as an important step in U.S. history.
"Juneteenth commemorates the moment some of the last formerly enslaved people in the nation learned that they were free. 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 in a statement.
“What I see here today is racial divide crumbling, being crushed this day under a momentous vote that brings together people who understand the value of freedom,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee ahead of Biden’s signature.