The United States Senate unanimously passed a bill on Tuesday that would make June 19, known as “Juneteenth,” a federal holiday.
The act is called the “Juneteenth National Independence Day Act” and would designate the day as a “legal public holiday.” It will go to the House of Representatives and if it passes there, it will head to President Joe Biden’s desk for him to sign or veto.
The federal holiday would recognize June 19, 1865, observing what is traditionally celebrated as African American Emancipation Day. According to juneteenth.com, Juneteenth is “the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States.” It was the day that Major General Gordon Granger led Union troops to Galveston, Texas, and told the people there that the Civil War was over and all slaves were free. The news came two and a half years after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on the first day of January 1863.
There have been many efforts to explain why there was such a delay in the news being received in Texas.
Often told is the story of a messenger who was murdered on his way to Texas with the news of freedom. Another is that the news was deliberately withheld by the enslavers to maintain the labor force on the plantations. And still another is that federal troops actually waited for the slave owners to reap the benefits of one last cotton harvest before going to Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation. All of which, or none of these versions could be true.
General Granger reportedly read aloud General Order Number 3 to tell them the news, beginning with, “The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer.”
As reported by USA Today, Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), Senator Tina Smith (D-MN), Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, (D-TX) reintroduced the bill earlier this year after Markey had introduced it last summer.
In a statement, Markey noted that the United States has “failed to acknowledge, address, and come to grips with our nation’s original sin of slavery.”
“Today’s Senate passage of our legislation to commemorate Juneteenth as a federal holiday will address this long-ignored gap in our history, recognize the wrong that was done, acknowledge the pain and suffering of generations of slaves and their descendants, and finally celebrate their freedom,” he said.
A poll released last year showed Americans’ general understanding and knowledge of the day.
According to USA Today, “22% of Americans said they were ‘very’ aware of the date, while 30% said they were ‘somewhat’ aware, according to the poll of a nationally representative survey of 1,963 U.S. adults was taken June 13-15[, 2020].” The data revealed that 33% were “not at all aware” and 15% were “not very aware” of the date.
The poll also showed that 66% of Americans said that “they supported companies making Juneteenth a holiday,” whereas 34% were opposed. The outlet also noted that “Black people and African Americans were more likely than others to support Juneteenth becoming a holiday with 84% in approval. In comparison, 67% of Hispanics responded in support with whites (61%) and Asian or Pacific Islanders (60%).”
The findings also showed that “Gen Xers were most likely (81%) to support the paid holiday initiative, followed by GenZ and millennials with 73% approval, Boomers (58%) and seniors (45%).”