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In a surprise move on Capitol Hill, the United States Senate passed a bill on Tuesday (June 15) to establish Juneteenth, the day commemorating the end of slavery in the United States, as a national holiday.
Juneteenth began on June 19th, 1865 in Galveston, Texas when an order by Major General Gordon Granger of the Union Army announced that all enslaved people in Galveston and the state were to be freed under the Emancipation Proclamation which was issued in 1863. From that point it became the official date for Black people across the nation to celebrate the end of slavery. It became a holiday in Texas in 1980 with other states following suit.
“Making Juneteenth a federal holiday is a major step forward to recognize the wrongs of the past,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement, “but we must continue to work to ensure equal justice and fulfill the promise of the Emancipation Proclamation and our Constitution.”
The bill, which was introduced to Congress by members including Texas Representative Sheila Jackson-Lee (D) and Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey (D) and Texas Senator John Conryn (R) last year, had been previously blocked when introduced last year by Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson (R). Johnson, who claimed in a statement that “although I strongly support celebrating Emancipation, I objected to the cost and lack of debate,” dropped his opposition to make the vote unanimous.
The news was met with mixed reactions online, given the ongoing fight by right wing politicians against other measures including the For The People Act which would federally protect the voting rights of Black voters and an anti-lynching bill that failed to pass.
The bill goes to the Democratic-led House of Representatives for a vote, and then to President Joe Biden’s desk to officially become a law.