The US Senate has unanimously passed on June 15th, a measure that would establish a federal holiday for Juneteenth, the day that marks the end of slavery in Texas.The bill now heads to the Democratic-led House, where it is likely to be approved, although the timing remains uncertain. Unanimous Senate passage was an anticlimactic culmination to a long effort to commemorate Juneteenth, the day that enslaved Black people in Galveston, Tex., received news on June 19, 1865, that they had been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation — more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln had signed it.
“Juneteenth commemorates the moment some of the last formerly enslaved people in the nation learned they were free,” said Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.). “Making Juneteenth a federal holiday is a major step forward to recognize the wrongs of the past — but we must continue to work to ensure equal justice and fulfill the promise of the Emancipation Proclamation and our Constitution.” The effort gained significant ground in the last Congress, but a July 2020 attempt to pass the bill establishing the holiday was foiled when Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) objected to its passage and GOP Senate leaders opted not to expend scarce floor time to get around his objection.
Johnson objected to the cost of granting federal workers an additional paid holiday, and he proposed amendments that would offset the cost by either removing Columbus Day from the list of paid federal holidays or subtracting a day from federal workers’ paid leave. That proposal prompted sharp criticism from conservative commentators such as Tucker Carlson, who last year accused Johnson and another Republican, Sen. James Lankford (Okla.), of “trying to cancel Columbus Day.”In a statement Tuesday, Johnson said that while he remained concerned about the cost, which he pegged at $600 million a year, he did not intend to object again.
The Congressional Budget Office has not delivered an official cost estimate for the bill. Johnson’s estimate is based on the wages and salary that would be paid to the federal workforce for the day off, plus overtime for those who would work that day. Had Johnson not withdrawn his objection, the legislation probably would have faced a tougher path to reaching the Senate floor, since bills that do not have unanimous consent require more time for debate, and the chamber’s leaders have focused that time instead on voting rights, infrastructure and other key parts of their legislative agenda.
Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States.From its Galveston, Texas origin in 1865, the observance of June 19th as the African American Emancipation Day has spread across the United States and beyond.
Today Juneteenth commemorates African American freedom and emphasizes education and achievement. It is a day, a week, and in some areas a month marked with celebrations, guest speakers, picnics and family gatherings. It is a time for reflection and rejoicing. It is a time for assessment, self-improvement and for planning the future. Its growing popularity signifies a level of maturity and dignity in America long over due. In cities across the country, people of all races, nationalities and religions are joining hands to truthfully acknowledge a period in our history that shaped and continues to influence our society today. Sensitized to the conditions and experiences of others, only then can we make significant and lasting improvements in our society.