Senate Passes Bill To Establish Juneteenth As a National Holiday

On Tuesday, the Senate unanimously passed a bill that would establish Juneteenth, June 19, as Juneteenth National Independence Day, a US holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.

The passage happened after Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson dropped his objection to the measure earlier in the day.

The measure was introduced last summer, but Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson’s vocal objections about the cost to taxpayers to pay federal workers for the day off stopped it from passing. Last year, Johnson and other lawmakers attempted to negotiate swapping Juneteenth for Columbus Day so there would not be an additional federal holiday added.

This year, the bill gained additional Republican support and Johnson dropped his objections.

“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,” the Republican senator said in a statement Tuesday morning. “Therefore, I do not intend to object.”

Black Americans have celebrated Juneteenth for decades. It has been a state holiday in Texas for 40 years, and currently an additional 46 states and the District of Columbia celebrate it in some way on the state level.

June 19, 1865 marks when the Union Army brought word to Galveston, Texas that slavery had been outlawed. Then-president Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation two years earlier.

“Commemorating Juneteenth as a national holiday will address this long-ignored gap in our history, recognize the wrong that was done, acknowledge the pain and suffering of generations of slaves and their descendants, and finally celebrate their freedom,” said Sen. Edward Markey who supported the bill.

The measure needs to pass the House and be signed by President Joe Biden to become law.

Formalizing it as a federal holiday, the bill guarantees federal workers will be given Juneteenth the day off. There is no requirement that private businesses must give employees the holiday. If it becomes law, it would be the 11th national holiday recognized annually by the federal government.