‘Juneteenth National Independence Day Act’ Would Make June 19 Federal Holiday

June 19, 2020 by Reece Nations
People raise their arms in solidarity as Sierra Davis Sanders and Ericka Still perform during a Juneteenth 2020 celebration outside the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum Friday, June 19, 2020, in St. Petersburg, Fla. Juneteenth marks the day in 1865 when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas to take control of the state and ensure all enslaved people be freed. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

WASHINGTON – New legislation would commemorate June 19 as a federal holiday 155 years after Major Gen. Gordon Granger issued the order signifying the end of slavery in the United States. In accordance with the Emancipation Proclamation, in 1865 Granger would give “General Order No. 3” in Galveston, Texas, endowing some of the nation’s last enslaved people with freedom.

The bill was introduced by Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., along with Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J. and Kamala Harris, D-Calif.. This act would establish a Juneteenth Federal Holiday Commission in order to encourage the general public to celebrate the occasion appropriately.

“We commemorate Juneteenth as the day that word of emancipation finally reached enslaved people in Texas in 1865, but we know the struggle for true Black liberation continues,” Markey said in a press release. “This legislation to make Juneteenth a federal holiday is but one step we can take to begin to right the wrongs of the past in order to ensure equal justice in the future. Today we commemorate. Tomorrow, we fight.” 

The holiday, also known as “Emancipation Day”, is currently recognized by 46 states and the District of Columbia as an official observance or state holiday. Texas was the first to recognize Juneteenth as a paid holiday in 1980 and is considered the birthplace of the Juneteenth holiday. 

“On Juneteenth, we remember the millions who suffered, died, and survived the crushing reality of slavery in America, and recommit ourselves to continuing in the fight for equal justice for all,” Harris said. “Without question, it should be recognized with the respect of a federal holiday.” 

Although Juneteenth is now widely recognized for its significance to the Black community in the U.S., Smith said the institution of a federal paid holiday would express greater solidarity on a nationwide level. 

“I, along with my colleagues Senators Markey, Booker and Harris, want to make this happen,” she said in a statement. “While many states already recognize this day, it’s long past time we commemorate the end of slavery as a country.” 

A growing number of U.S. companies are declaring Juneteenth a paid holiday for all employees. Nike, Target and Ben and Jerry’s are just a few of the companies that announced their employees would receive a paid day off from work in observance of the holiday.

Booker said commemorating the holiday is about more than observing the enforcement of the Emancipation Proclamation. It is not only an acknowledgment of the historical events that led to the emancipation, but a recognition of all the societal struggles that have followed. 

“Juneteenth is about reclaiming our history, rejoicing in the progress we’ve made, and recommitting to the work yet undone,” he said. “Our nation still has a long way to go to reckon with and overcome the dark legacy of slavery and the violence and injustice that has persisted after its end. Making Juneteenth a federal holiday represents a step forward in the journey of healing America is still taking.”

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