Independence Day will soon become America's first new federal holiday in nearly 40 years, thanks to legislation passed by both the House and Senate
that gives federal employees a day off on June 19.
The Juneteenth National Independence Day Act was approved by the House on Wednesday by a vote of 415 to 14, after the Senate unanimously passed the bill on Tuesday. President Joe Biden
must now sign the bill.
“What I see here today is a racial divide being crushed this day by a momentous vote that brings together people
who understand the value of freedom,” Rep. Sheila Jackson
Lee (D-Texas) said at a press conference Wednesday.
Last year, Jackson Lee and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) introduced legislation to make Juneteenth a federal holiday; the Senate version of the bill did not receive a vote, but when Cornyn and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) reintroduced it this year, the bill quickly garnered 60 cosponsors, including 18 Republicans, indicating that it had enough support to overcome a filibuster
Sen. Ron Johnson
(R-Wis.) had stated that he would object to the bill, which would have required Democrats
to go through a lengthy “cloture” process, which Democrats appeared to be unwilling to do, but in a stunning reversal, Johnson dropped his objection.
“It sounds like Congress
wants to do it, so I'm not going to stand in the way,” Johnson told Stardia, adding that he supported commemorating Juneteenth but was concerned that a day off for workers would cost the federal government money
Markey refused to tell reporters on Wednesday what happened behind the scenes that resulted in the bill's unexpected unanimous Senate passage, despite the fact that Democrats had not previously announced any plans to hold a vote on it.
After Johnson dropped his objection, the bill received almost no opposition, though a few House Republicans
complained that calling the new holiday Juneteenth Independence Day would detract from Independence Day on July 4. Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) said the bill would “create confusion and push Americans to pick one of those two days as their independence day based on their racial identity.”
According to a 2020 survey by Stardia/YouGov, most Americans support making Juneteenth a national holiday. The idea gained traction last year amid widespread Black Lives Matter
protests following the police
killing of George Floyd
, and many employers announced they would give their employees the day off. (Private employers are not required to give employees time off for federal holidays
have long celebrated June 19 as the end of slavery
in the United States
; on that day in 1865, the Union Army announced in Galveston, Texas, that the Civil War was over and slavery was outlawed, more than two years after then-President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
Juneteenth will be the 11th annual federal holiday, as well as the first new one since Congress established Martin Luther King Jr.
Day in 1983.
“Like Martin Luther King Day, it will be a day for Americans to reflect on our society’s great unfinished business
,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer
(D-NY) said, noting that he worked on the MLK Day bill as a House member. “This is a fitting other end of the book
, in a sense, now that Juneteenth is finally being recognized.”
The holiday is largely symbolic, but Democrats are working on racial justice
policy bills centered on policing and voting rights
that they hope to pass this summer.
“I would hope that we would not forego substantive change for the sake of commemoration,” said Sen. Raphael Warnock
(D-Ga.), adding that “memorialization should drive change, not be a substitute.”