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USA to Establish New Federal Holiday Marking End of Slavery

Juneteenth federal holiday slavery
Senate approves bill to make June 19th public holiday. Public Domain

The US Senate on Tuesday unanimously passed a bill that would make Juneteenth, or June 19th, a federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.

Juneteenth commemorates the announcement of the abolition of slavery in Texas and the nation’s “second” Independence Day.

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

The bill is expected to easily pass the House, which would send it to President Joe Biden for his signature. Under the legislation, the federal holiday would be known as Juneteenth National Independence Day.

An attempt to pass the bill last year foundered when Senator Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, objected to the cost of adding another federal holiday to the calendar. He said it would cost $600M a year to give government employees a day off.

Johnson did not oppose the measure again on Tuesday, though he said in a statement to the Washington Post that he was still concerned about the cost.

Federal holiday to mark end of slavery for African-Americans

Juneteenth marks the day that US Army General Gordon Grainger formally told enslaved African-Americans in Galveston, Texas, that the American Civil War was over and they had been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, enacted two-and-a-half years earlier by President Abraham Lincoln.

For the more than 250,000 enslaved people in Texas, General Granger’s order didn’t instantly release them from their chains; many slavers suppressed the news to the people they enslaved.

The day now more widely represents the emancipation of enslaved African-Americans across the US following the Civil War and its violent aftermath, and is the oldest nationally recognized commemoration of slavery’s end.

Parades, festivals, concerts, family gatherings, church services and other community events are hosted across the US, but Juneteenth has remained an unofficial national holiday. Until now it has not been celebrated on the federal level, whereas the Fourth of July – which marks the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 – is recognized nationwide just a few weeks later.

Celebrations date to 1866, at first involving church-centered community gatherings in Texas. It spread across the South and became more commercialized in the 1920s and 1930s, often centering on a food festival.

Juneteenth federal holiday slavery
Emancipation Day celebration in Richmond, Virginia, 1905. Public Domain

During the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, it was eclipsed by the struggle for postwar civil rights, but grew in popularity again in the 1970s with a focus on African American culture.

As of 2020, Hawaii, North Dakota and South Dakota are the only states that do not recognize Juneteenth, according to the Congressional Research Service.

In the United States, a federal holiday is a calendar date that is recognized and designated by the federal government of the United States as a holiday.

Every year on a U.S. federal holiday, non-essential federal government offices are closed, stock market trading is usually suspended, and every federal government employee is paid for the holiday.

With the addition of Juneteenth, the U.S. government recognizes 11 federal holidays.

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