The US Senate on Tuesday passed a bill that would make “Juneteenth,” or June 19, a federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the nation.
The bill would lead to “Juneteenth” becoming the 12th federal holiday. It is expected to easily pass the US House of Representatives, which would send it to US President Joe Biden for his signature.
“Juneteenth” commemorates when the last enslaved African Americans learned they were free.
Confederate soldiers surrendered in April 1865, but word did not reach the last enslaved black people until June 19, when Union soldiers took the news of freedom to Galveston, Texas. That was also about two-and-a-half years after the Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves in southern states.
“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,” US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said.
The US Senate passed the bill under a unanimous consent agreement that expedites the process for considering legislation. It takes just one senator’s objection to block such agreements.
US Senator Ron Johnson, a Republican, had objected in the previous Congress to a bill to celebrate “Juneteenth” as a federal holiday because of the cost and lack of debate.
Johnson said that he has supported resolutions recognizing the significance of June 19, but he was concerned the new holiday would give federal employees another day off at a cost of about US$600 million per year.
“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. Therefore, I do not intend to object,” Johnson said in a statement before Tuesday’s vote.
The bill was sponsored by US Senator Edward Markey, a Democrat, and had 60 cosponsors.
“We have a long road towards racial justice in the United States and we cannot get there without acknowledging our nation’s original sin of slavery. It is long past time to make Juneteenth a federal holiday,” Markey wrote on Twitter on Monday.
The vast majority of states recognize June 19 as a holiday or have an official observance of the day, and most states hold celebrations. June 19 is a paid holiday for state employees in Texas, New York, Virginia and Washington.
Under the legislation, the federal holiday would be known as Juneteenth National Independence Day.
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