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House votes to make Juneteenth paid federal holiday; bill heading to President Biden's desk

Juneteenth Lincoln Museum
Posted at 5:12 PM, Jun 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-17 14:15:29-04

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The House voted 415-14 on Wednesday to make Juneteenth a federal paid holiday, just one day after the Senate unanimously passed the legislation. Officially, the day would be known as Juneteenth National Independence Day. This is the first time in 38 years that Congress has established a national holiday.

“Making Juneteenth a federal holiday is a major step forward to recognize the wrongs of the past,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) in a statement on Tuesday. “But we must continue to work to ensure equal justice and fulfill the promise of the Emancipation Proclamation and our Constitution.”

While the bill had strong bipartisan support, Rep. Matt Rosendale, who voted against the legislation, called it a "move by the Left” to “celebrate identity politics.”

The bill was blocked in 2020 by Republican Sen. Ron Johnson after he cited concerns about the lack of debate and the millions of dollars the holiday would cost taxpayers. However, this year he did not object.

“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.

Making Juneteenth a holiday regained momentum in the wake of the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests.

The bill was reintroduced in February by Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Ed Markey (D-MA), Tina Smith (D-MN), John Cornyn (R-TX), and Rep. Shelia Jackson Lee (D-TX). It had 60 co-sponsors in the Senate and currently has 166 co-sponsors in the House.

Juneteenth is a blending of the words June and nineteenth and commemorates the day that the last enslaved people in Galveston, Texas learned of their freedom on June 19, 1865, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed.

Exactly one year later, the first celebration, called “Jubilee Day,” took place in Texas. Today, the holiday is a way for Black Americans to come together and celebrate that history.

The bill is now headed to President Biden’s desk to be signed days before the holiday on Saturday.