Following a Unanimous Senate Vote, Juneteenth Could Soon Become a US National Holiday

Over the past decade, various states, cities and even corporations have begun making Juneteenth a holiday — but now, the day that marks the emancipation of thousands of enslaved Black Americans could be on its way to becoming a federally celebrated national holiday as well. 

Alana Wise of NPR has reported that the U.S. Senate unanimously approved a bill on Tuesday, June 15, that would make Juneteenth a legal public holiday.

According to Wise, “the measure is expected to be approved by the Democratic-led House of Representatives as well, but the timing is unclear.”

In a statement released following the Senate vote, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said, “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.”

The renewed focus on important historical events such as Juneteenth follows the country’s growing national reckoning on race, racism and social justice reform, which has been burgeoning for years but truly exploded over the summer of 2020 following the violent police murder of George Floyd.

“Academic calls to more critically examine the lens through which race has molded public life, including in economics and the justice system, have prompted backlash by some Republican lawmakers who say that viewpoint unfairly villainizes white people and overstates the extent to which racism is foundational to American society,” Wise reported.

Despite this growing pushback on racial matters from the conservative right, Senate Republicans still recognized the importance of the day — as evidenced by their vote — and somewhat surprisingly voted overwhelmingly to support a national Juneteenth observance.

Should a bill recognizing Juneteenth as a holiday pass the House, the proposal would go to President Biden, who would all but certain sign it and make the holiday official.

What is Juneteenth?

Also known as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Liberation Day and Emancipation Day, Juneteenth is a holiday celebrating the emancipation of the very last group of Black Americans who had been enslaved in the United States. Although Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered on April 9, 1865, the Army of the Trans-Mississippi in the west did not surrender until June 2. On June 19, weeks after the official conclusion of the Civil War on May 9, Union Army General Gordon Granger landed in Galveston, Texas, announcing the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. His arrival was more than two and a half years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. This overdue announcement ultimately freed more than 250,000 slaves across the state.

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