UPDATED with latest: The White House has announced tonight that President Joe Biden will on Thursday sign the bill passed today in Congress that will make Juneteenth a federal holiday.
When the White House Press Office sent its daily guidance for Thursday to media late today, it included the following: “3:30 p.m.: THE PRESIDENT signs the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law; THE PRESIDENT and THE VICE PRESIDENT deliver remarks.”
The signing of the bill will literally be the first thing POTUS officially does tomorrow landing back in D.C, tonight from a weeklong and summit filled trip to Europe.
PREVIOUSLY at 5:30 p.m.: The House of Representatives voted 415-14 late Wednesday to establish June 19 as a federal holiday in the U.S. Called Juneteenth National Independence Day, the 156-year-old celebration commemorates the end of slavery in Texas on June 19, 1865. Celebrated in 47 states and the District of Columbia, Juneteenth has long been seen as a marker of the day state-sanctioned slavery in America ended.
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Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas and Democratic Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts were the sponsors of the bipartisan bill, which passed unanimously in the Senate on Tuesday. The bill next goes to President Biden’s desk, where it will surely be signed into law.
“Our federal holidays are purposely few in number and recognize the most important milestones,” said Democrat Carolyn Maloney from New York. “I cannot think of a more important milestone to commemorate than the end of slavery in the United. States.”
Designation as a federal holiday means federal government employees would get the day off every year on June 19, or a Monday or Friday adjacent to it.
The federal designation would also put pressure on businesses and local governments to align. The last new federal holiday created was Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer tweeted on Wednesday that Juneteenth “will be the only federal holiday recognizing the horrors of slavery and the transformative legacy of emancipation.”
Actress and producer Kerry Washington tweeted, “156 years later and #Juneteenth is becoming a Federal Holiday.”
156 years later and #Juneteenth is becoming a Federal Holiday
— kerry washington (@kerrywashington) June 16, 2021
Washington’s post conveys a sense of the long road the holiday — and African Americans themselves — have had to receive recognition for their rights, struggles and achievements.
While Abraham Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation freeing enslaved people in United States in 1863, the nation was in the midst of the Civil War, and Southern states did not abide by the decree. Even after the South surrendered on April 9, 1865, it took the news — and the federal forces enforcing it — some time to reach outlying states such as Texas.
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So on June 19, 1865, U.S. Major General Gordon Granger and 2,000 troops landed in Galveston, Texas and marched through the streets reading Granger’s just-issued General Order No.3, which served as an announcement of the end of slavery in accordance with Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation. At the time, there were just over 1,000 enslaved people in the city.
Annual celebrations of the event began the very next year in Galveston, with a local paper recording that “eight hundred or a thousand men, women and children took part in the demonstration” at which the Emancipation Proclamation was read.
In the decades since, Juneteenth celebrations have spread across the U.S. And now, they have been officially sanctioned by the U.S. Government.