Image Courtesy of NBC News
By: Jeremy Perillo
After months of deliberation, President Joe Biden signed a bill into law that made Juneteenth a federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. Juneteenth National Independence Day is the most recently designated federal holiday since Martin Luther King Day was made a national holiday in 1983.
Juneteeth seeks to commemorate Union Major General Gordon Granger’s announcement of the end of slavery in Galveston, Texas to the last enslaved African Americans on June 19, 1865. His announcement was in support of President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation from two years earlier.
The legislation gained momentum following the Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the murder of George Floyd during the summer of 2020. The bill passed unanimously in the Senate and passed by a vote of 415-14 in the House.
The large bipartisan support for the bill was reflected in both the vote and in its legislative sponsors, which included Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), and Senator Ed Markey (D-MA).
While remaining mostly bipartisan, there were Republicans in the House who did not stand with their party colleagues in support of this bill. Representatives Thomas Massie (R-KY), Mo Brooks (R-AL), and Chip Roy (R-TX) are some of the fourteen Republicans that voted against the legislation.
Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) recently changed his position on the bill, which he had single-handedly blocked since its introduction in 2020. His opposition was motivated by the millions of dollars that taxpayers would bear from giving federal employees the day off.
During the signing ceremony President Biden pondered the significance the legislation had on him and his presidency.
“I have to say to you, I’ve only been president for several months, but I think this will go down, for me, as one of the greatest honors I will have as president,” Biden said. “I regret that my grandchildren aren’t here, because this is a really, really, really important moment in our history. By making Juneteenth a federal holiday, all Americans can feel the power of this day and learn from our history — and celebrate progress and grapple with the distance we’ve come and the distance we have to travel.”
Because Juneteenth fell on a Saturday this year, most federal workers observed the holiday on Friday, June 18.