US poised to make Juneteenth a federal holiday

The United States will soon have a new federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the nation.

Congress has approved a bill that would make Juneteenth, or 19 June, a holiday – a bill Joe Biden is expected to sign into law.

Juneteenth commemorates the day in 1865 when news of the Emancipation Proclamation reached the people of Galveston, Texas, freeing slaves in the last rebel state. Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, freeing enslaved people in the southern states, and Confederate soldiers surrendered in April 1865. But the proclamation wasn’t enforced in Galveston until federal soldiers read out the proclamation on 19 June 1865.

“Our federal holidays are purposely few in number and recognize the most important milestones,” said the Democratic congresswoman Carolyn Maloney. “I cannot think of a more important milestone to commemorate than the end of slavery in the United States.”

Sheila Jackson Lee, a Texas Democrat, speaking next to a large poster of a Black man whose back bore massive scarring from being whipped, said she would be in Galveston this Saturday to celebrate along with Republican senator John Cornyn of Texas.

“Can you imagine?” said Jackson Lee, who made a joke about her height. “I will be standing maybe taller than Senator Cornyn, forgive me for that, because it will be such an elevation of joy.”

The Senate unanimously passed the measure yesterday, and the House voted to pass the bill on Wednesday afternoon.

About 60% of Americans knew “nothing at all” or just “a little bit” about Juneteenth, according to a Gallup poll released Tuesday. And federal recognition of Juneteenth comes as Republican officials across the country move to ban schools from teaching students “critical race theory”, the history of slavery and the ongoing impacts of systemic racism.

“Congress overwhelmingly voted to establish Juneteenth as a federal holiday. But let us not forget that in Florida and Texas, educators are banned from teaching critical race theory,” wrote human rights advocate Martin Luther King III, the son of Martin Luther King Jr. “Let Juneteenth be both a day of celebration and a day of education of our nation’s true history.”

For some critics, the move felt like a hollow gesture. “No more performative gestures for Juneteenth,” said Janeese Lewis George, a District of Columbia councilmember. “Stop giving us things we didn’t ask for and ignoring the things that matter.”

Cori Bush, a Democratic representative of Missouri, called for broader reforms to address systemic racism.

It’s Juneteenth AND reparations.It’s Juneteenth AND end police violence + the War on Drugs.It’s Juneteenth AND end housing + education apartheid.It’s Juneteenth AND teach the truth about white supremacy in our country.

Black liberation in its totality must be prioritized.