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Senate passes bill to establish Juneteenth as a national holiday

·National Reporter & Producer
·2 min read
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The Senate passed a bill Tuesday to establish Juneteenth, the day marking the end of slavery in the United States, as a national holiday.

After passing by unanimous consent, the bill now heads to the House of Representatives, where its passage is all but assured, then on to President Biden’s desk for signature into law.

Celebrated on June 19, Juneteenth, or Freedom Day, recognizes and marks the emancipation of formerly enslaved African Americans, commemorating the date in 1865 when slaves in Galveston, Texas, learned of their freedom.

More than 150 years later, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., made a motion to pass the bill via unanimous consent. No other senator objected, including Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., who dropped his previous objection to the bill.

“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,” Johnson said.

Juneteenth celebration
Juneteenth is celebrated in Philadelphia in 2019, the year it was declared an official state holiday by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf. (Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto)

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, first introduced the bill last spring at the height of racial tension in the country following the murder of George Floyd, but they could not garner the support needed. Now, about a year later, the bill included 18 GOP co-sponsors.

“It has been a state holiday in Texas for more than 40 years,” Cornyn tweeted Tuesday afternoon. “Now more than ever, we need to learn from our history and continue to form a more perfect union.”

While Juneteenth has been celebrated by some Black Americans since the late 1800s, the holiday has gained in popularity in recent years. Today, cities and towns across the country mark the date with festivals, parades, barbecues and educational events.

A man carries a Black Liberation flag through a Juneteenth celebration at the memorial for George Floyd outside Cup Foods on June 19, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)
A Juneteenth celebration at the memorial for George Floyd in Minneapolis last year. (Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

“The stakes are a little different,” Mark Anthony Neal, a Duke University African American studies professor, told the New York Times last June. “Many Black Americans feel as though this is the first time in a long time that they have been heard in a way across the culture. ... It’s an opportunity for folks to kind of catch their breath about what has been this incredible pace of change and shifting that we’ve seen.”

If the bill is passed in the House and signed by the president, Juneteenth would become the 11th annual federal holiday.

Cover thumbnail photo: Natasha Moustache/Getty Images

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