This could also be the first major holiday where Americans would gather to celebrate a national holiday after the COVID-19 pandemic locked everyone indoors.
The United States Senate on Tuesday passed a bill to make June 19 a federal holiday in honor of Juneteenth, the day that marked the end of slavery in the country. The bill was ratified by the Democrats and Republicans unanimously, a significant development for the nation in recent times when it has been difficult getting politicians with different allegiances to agree on something.
Efforts to pass the bill had failed last year when it was objected to by Senator Ron Johnson, a Republican from Wisconsin, as he said it would cost the federal government millions of dollars to add another holiday to the calendar to be paid for by them, the BBC reported.
While the House, led by the Democrats, is yet to give the measure a go ahead, it is all but certain to pass.
"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," the Democratic leader of the Senate, Charles Schumer, said.
Juneteenth marks the day in 1865 when Black people who had been enslaved in Texas were told that they had been freed. It was the last Confederate state to have the proclamation announced. The state also became the first to observe Juneteenth as an official holiday in 1980.
In the 19th century when the American Civil War ended, U.S. Army General, Gordon Grainger, formally informed enslaved Black people in the town of Galveston that the war was over. Since then, nearly all American states have recognized Juneteenth as a holiday, either officially or unofficially.
Louisiana unanimously passed the bill that makes Juneteenth an official state holiday! pic.twitter.com/87irVmKDAe— Pandemic P Publicist (@iamkingdwayne) June 8, 2021
President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 had enacted the Emancipation Proclamation under which the slaves had been freed. Under it, all enslaved people in Confederate states in rebellion against the Union “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free,” according to history.com.
Once the news spread, celebrations broke out among many of the Black people, and thus, Juneteenth was born. In December 1865, slavery in America was formally abolished with the adoption of the 13th Amendment.
In Texas—which had been considered a safe haven for slavery—enslavement had continued as the state did not face any large-scale fighting or a significant presence of Union troops. Confederate General Robert E. Lee had surrendered two months before Juneteenth in Virginia, but slavery had remained relatively unaffected in Texas until Granger read out the order.
Hawaii passed legislation on April 27, 2021, to recognize Juneteenth, but it is unclear whether the governor signed the bill into law. South Dakota still has not recognized the holiday, USA Today said.
The celebrations this year would also mark two significant events of the past year. Millions of Americans took to the streets in response to the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other Black Americans to protest racial injustice last summer.
This could also be the first major holiday where Americans would gather to celebrate a national holiday after the COVID-19 pandemic locked everyone indoors. Vaccinations are in full swing under President Joe Biden’s administration. Nearly one out of two Americans have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine as of May 25, while half the citizens above the age of 18 in the country have been fully vaccinated, Reuters reported.
Republican Senator John Cornyn, from Texas, welcomed the bill's passage on Tuesday in a tweet. "Now more than ever, we need to learn from our history and continue to form a more perfect union," he said.
In pop culture, celebrations for the day have been seen in TV shows including Black-ish and Atlanta. And the day also has its own flag for celebrations.
The original Juneteenth flag was created in 1997 by Ben Haith, the founder of the National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation. However, since then the flag has undergone many changes. The flag underwent revisions in 2000 and the date "June 19, 1865," was added in 2007.
Happy Flag Day! We’re celebrating with the Official Juneteenth Flag! pic.twitter.com/NDXs7ufLLy— Juneteenth Unityfest (@JuneteenthUnity) June 14, 2021
Representative Cover Image Source: Getty Images/elladoro