The movement to recognize Juneteenth as a holiday has picked up major congressional support.
On Tuesday (June 15), the Senate unanimously passed a bill to establish June 19 as a federal holiday honoring the day in 1865 when enslaved Black people in Galveston, Tex., were informed they had been free for two years. The bill is now headed to the Democratic-led house where it is expected to pass.
A senior House Democratic aide, speaking anonymously, told The Washington Post that the House leadership is “supportive” and reviewing the bill.
Groups including the NAACP and the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation support the bill. Wade Henderson, interim president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, commended the Senate for passing the bill, but also pointed out that more needs to be done.
“But holidays alone are not enough — there is still much work to be done to build equity, to undo systemic racism, to atone for centuries of brutal treatment of enslaved Africans in America and their descendants,” Henderson said.
On June 19, 1865, U.S. Army Maj. General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston to tell Black people who had been enslaved that the Civil War was over and they had actually been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, which was effective Jan. 1, 1863. Juneteenth as the date has come to be known, has been celebrated in Black communities for generations as a memorialization of that day.
In 1980, Texas became the first state to establish Juneteenth as a state holiday. Today, every state and the District of Columbia recognizes it with the exception of South Dakota. If the Senate bill becomes law, Juneteenth would become the 11th federal holiday.
Sen. Edward J. Markey was presiding over the Senate when the bill was passed. In a statement after the vote, he said, “For far too long, the story of our country’s history has been incomplete as we have failed to acknowledge, address, and come to grips with our nation’s original sin of slavery.”
He added that the legislation’s passage “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.”
“Juneteenth commemorates the moment some of the last formerly enslaved people in the nation learned they were free,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. “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.”