Senate passes 'long overdue' bill declaring Juneteenth a federal holiday

Senate unanimously votes on bill, making it one step closer to reality, now passes to the House for approval


                            Senate passes 'long overdue' bill declaring Juneteenth a federal holiday
People participate in a march for both Black Lives Matter and to commemorate the 155th anniversary of Juneteenth on June 19, 2020 in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
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The Senate voted unanimously to pass a bill making June 19, Juneteenth, a federal holiday on June 15. Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, who previously objected to the bill, dropped those objections this year allowing the Senate to pass the historic bill. It now goes to the House, who will have to clear the bill before it lands on President Joe Biden's desk. 

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The bill is a watershed moment for African Americans, who have been fighting to recognize the importance of the day, especially in light of the Black Lives Matter movement. Back in 2020, Donald Trump claimed he "made Juneteenth famous," and even pledged to make it a federal holiday later on the campaign trail. He also moved the date of his Tusla rally, to June 20 out of "respect" for the date. 

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Despite previous attempts, Juneteenth was never a federal holiday. Some states and local governments do recognize the day, as did universities, schools, and even private companies, but very few observe it as a paid holiday. All that could change though, if the bill is passed by the House and signed by President Biden.

A man displays a shirt celebrating the freedom of enslaved Black people during the Juneteenth celebration in the Greenwood District on June 19, 2020 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. (Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)

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Unanimous vote in Senate

In a rare sign of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill, the bill was passed unanimously by the Senate. There were no objections after Sen. Johnson dropped his, albeit grudgingly. "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," he said in a statement

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For Johnson, the big concern was that the holiday would cost $600 million a year. "Although I strongly support celebrating Emancipation, I objected to the cost and lack of debate," he said. But even the most conservative of Republicans, for whom federal spending is a high priority item, backed the bill. "The passage of this bill represents a big step in our nation’s journey toward equality," Sen. John Corbyn said. 

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For those of you who need a refresher, June 19 was the date the last enslaved African Americans became free. In 1865, roughly 2,000 Union Army soldiers landed at Galveston to pass the news, two years after the historic emancipation proclamation. In 1979, Texas became the first state to recognize Juneteenth formally. The Senate bill was sponsored by Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass), along with 60 cosponsors, from both sides of the aisle.

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Members of the Washington Wizards and Washington Mystics march to support Black Lives Matter and mark the Juneteenth holiday June 19, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

 

Twitter celebrates 'long overdue' news

"Unanimously passed in the Senate, on its way to the House, and then President Biden's desk, Juneteenth is THISCLOSE to being a national holiday. About damn time," tweeted one user. Another said, "This is long overdue. This will now go to the House where it will pass. #JuneTeenth will finally become a federal holiday!"

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One person tweeted, "Juneteenth being a federal holiday is important. It’s the closest our nation has come to acknowledging its sin of slavery. But we also need legislation that addresses our current issues, legislation that enables us to be active participants in democracy." Sen. Ed Markey tweeted, "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."

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Others though were warier of the reality. One user noted, "The humor of America making Juneteenth a national holiday when they’re banning people from teaching about it in schools is not lost on me," referring to the controversy around Critical Race Theory. Another said, "The cops are going to kill another Black person during Juneteenth weekend but at least the white establishment has decided to acknowledge the holiday with a vote & a hashtag logo."

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It is highly likely that the bill will be passed by the House, given the strong bipartisan support for Juneteenth. It will become the first federal holiday added since Martin Luther King day was recognized in 1983.