Will Juneteenth become a federal holiday? Senate unanimously passes a bill, bringing it one step closer

Protesters turn on their cell phone lights to honor the victims of police violence as they observe a minute of silence on June 19, 2020 in Richmond, Virginia. Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when a Union general read orders in Galveston, Texas stating all enslaved people in Texas were free according to federal law. (Photo by Eze Amos) (Getty Images)

It’s an occasion that’s recognized in most states and the District of Columbia, but it’s not as of yet a federal holiday.

So, what is the holdup?

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This year marks the 156th anniversary of a day that’s known as “Juneteenth,” “Freedom Day” or “Emancipation Day,” when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865, with word that slavery had been abolished two years earlier. The day commemorates the end of slavery in the United States.

More recognition of Juneteenth started to infiltrate corporate America last year, with JCPenney, the National Football League, Twitter and Nike among the entities that decided to either close offices so employees could pay tribute to the occasion, or give employees paid time off. Additionally, the federal holiday legislation has gained momentum ever since the Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd last year and the Democrats’ takeover of the White House and Congress.

Although the federal government has yet to officially make June 19 a national holiday, it looks like we’re getting closer.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday. To become law, the measure now needs to pass the House and be signed by President Joe Biden.

It was in February when House and Senate members from both major parties reintroduced the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act in an effort to make June 19 a national holiday. There was some opposition, most notably from Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, who said the new holiday would cost American taxpayers up to $600 million a year to pay federal employees.

Johnson dropped his objection this week, despite his concerns.

It isn’t a simple process for Congress to create a national holiday, given there are only 10 such days that have been instituted in history. The last time a new national holiday was approved by the federal government was in 1983, when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day earned the designation.

Only time will tell if Juneteenth becomes the 11th national holiday, but one thing for certain is that there seems to be more of a push than ever to make it happen.

Gwen Ragsdale, executive director of Lest We Forget Slavery Museum in Philadelphia, told NPR that Juneteenth is an occasion for African-Americans to have gatherings and celebrate with music and dance.

“Juneteenth is much more (than) our July 4, much more akin to who we are as a culture than July 4 is,” Ragsdale said to NPR.

About the Author:

Keith is a member of Graham Media Group's Digital Content Team, which produces content for all the company's news websites.