The United States has a new federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery — the first new national holiday since 1983.
The House voted 415-14 on Wednesday to make Juneteenth, or June 19th, the 12th federal holiday, and President Joe Biden signed the bill into law on Thursday.
Since June 19 falls on a Saturday this year, most federal employees will get this Friday off. However, some banks have announced they will not be closed. The United States Postal Service (USPS) will also remain open. In a statement, the USPS explained even though the agency supports the new law, they do not have the ability to cease operations on short notice. They will operate on a normal schedule for Friday, June 18 and Saturday, June 19.
As America confronts race relations, Juneteenth has become a much more important holiday to recognize, even though many Americans are unfamiliar with it.
Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers brought the news of freedom to enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas — two months after the Confederacy had surrendered.
President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation that freed slaves in all of the southern states in January of 1863, but that document didn't go into effect until the Union won the Civil War.
Union General Gordon Granger read the order aloud, "all slaves are free" from the Galveston County courthouse.
Juneteenth is the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was created in 1983.
"Our federal holidays are purposely few in number and recognize the most important milestones," said U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY). "I cannot think of a more important milestone to commemorate than the end of slavery in the United States."
The Senate passed the bill on Wednesday under a unanimous consent agreement that expedites the process for considering legislation. It takes just one senator's objection to block such agreements.
Under the legislation, the federal holiday would be known as Juneteenth National Independence Day.
As CBN News reported last year, two Republican senators proposed the idea of replacing Columbus Day as a federal holiday with Juneteenth. U.S. Senators Ron Johnson (R-WI) and James Lankford (R-OK) introduced their suggested amendment to bipartisan legislation led by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX).
"In response to a bipartisan effort to give federal workers another day of paid leave by designating Juneteenth a federal holiday, we have offered a counterproposal that does not put us further in debt," Sen. Johnson said at the time. "We support celebrating emancipation with a federal holiday, but believe we should eliminate a current holiday in exchange. We chose Columbus Day as a holiday that is lightly celebrated, and least disruptive to Americans' schedules."
Every federal holiday costs the government $600 million in paid leave for government workers, according to the two senators.
The bill is sponsored by Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA) and had 60 co-sponsors.
A vast majority of states recognize Juneteenth as a holiday or have an official observance of the day, and most states hold celebrations. Juneteenth is a paid holiday for state employees in Texas, New York, Virginia, and Washington.
*** WHITE HOUSE Proclamation on Juneteenth Day of Observance, 2021 ***
JUNE 18, 2021
On June 19, 1865 — nearly nine decades after our Nation's founding, and more than 2 years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation — enslaved Americans in Galveston, Texas, finally received word that they were free from bondage. As those who were formerly enslaved were recognized for the first time as citizens, Black Americans came to commemorate Juneteenth with celebrations across the country, building new lives and a new tradition that we honor today. In its celebration of freedom, Juneteenth is a day that should be recognized by all Americans. And that is why I am proud to have consecrated Juneteenth as our newest national holiday.
Juneteenth is a day of profound weight and power.
A day in which we remember the moral stain and terrible toll of slavery on our country –- what I've long called America's original sin. A long legacy of systemic racism, inequality, and inhumanity.
But it is a day that also reminds us of our incredible capacity to heal, hope, and emerge from our darkest moments with purpose and resolve.
As I said on the 100th Anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, great nations don't ignore the most painful chapters of their past. Great nations confront them. We come to terms with them.
On Juneteenth, we recommit ourselves to the work of equity, equality, and justice. And, we celebrate the centuries of struggle, courage, and hope that have brought us to this time of progress and possibility. That work has been led throughout our history by abolitionists and educators, civil rights advocates and lawyers, courageous activists and trade unionists, public officials, and everyday Americans who have helped make real the ideals of our founding documents for all.
There is still more work to do. As we emerge from the long, dark winter of the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, racial equity remains at the heart of our efforts to vaccinate the Nation and beat the virus. We must recognize that Black Americans, among other people of color, have shouldered a disproportionate burden of loss — while also carrying us through disproportionately as essential workers and health care providers on the front lines of the crisis.
Psalm 30 proclaims that "weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning." Juneteenth marks both the long, hard night of slavery and discrimination, and the promise of a brighter morning to come. My Administration is committed to building an economy — and a Nation — that brings everyone along, and finally delivers our Nation's founding promise to Black Americans. Together, we will lay the roots of real and lasting justice, so that we can become the extraordinary country that was promised to all Americans.
Juneteenth not only commemorates the past. It calls us to action today.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR., President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim June 19, 2021, as Juneteenth Day of Observance. I call upon the people of the United States to acknowledge and celebrate the end of the Civil War and the emancipation of Black Americans, and commit together to eradicate systemic racism that still undermines our founding ideals and collective prosperity.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this eighteenth day of June, in the year of our Lord two thousand twenty-one, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty-fifth.
JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR.