House approves bill to make Juneteenth a federal holiday
Both chambers of Congress have cleared legislation recognizing Juneteenth as a legal public holiday in time for Saturday’s celebration, capping a years-long campaign by many Black activists, including lawmakers, to do so.
The House on Wednesday evening overwhelmingly approved the bill, which marks the end of slavery in Texas and will become the first new federal holiday in 40 years. Fourteen GOP lawmakers opposed the bill.
The bill, which sailed through Congress in unexpectedly quick fashion, now heads to President Joe Biden’s desk. When the vote became final on Wednesday evening, it was Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) — one of Congress’s earlier proponents of a federal Juneteenth holiday — who held the gavel and formally declared its passage, with cheers erupting in the chamber.
“It was hugely significant, and it did happen fast. A lot of us never thought we would see this day. It’s a day of rejoicing, it’s a day of hallelujah,” Rep. Marc Veasey, another Texas Democrat, said in an interview shortly after the vote. “For me, it’s a lot of history. It symbolizes that we’ve come a long way and we have a lot more work to do.”
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer had announced Wednesday morning that the chamber would bring the measure to the floor for a vote, surprising — and delighting — many Democrats with the speed of the process.
“Black history is American history, and I am proud that Congress is following the lead of the Congressional Black Caucus in reaffirming that sacred principle — because we can’t change the future if we can’t acknowledge the past,” Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Joyce Beatty said in a statement after the vote.
Sponsored by Markey and cosponsored by a bipartisan group of 60 senators, the legislation passed the Senate on Tuesday by unanimous consent, meaning no lawmaker objected to its approval.
“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,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement Tuesday after its passage.
Juneteenth, celebrated annually on June 19 and already recognized as a holiday in 45 states, commemorates the end of slavery in Confederate states. While President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation to free slaves on Jan. 1, 1863, it took another two and a half years before some 250,000 slaves in Texas learned of their freedom on June 19, 1865.
Slavery in the U.S. was formally outlawed when the 13th Amendment was ratified in December 1865.