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House Passes Bill to Make Juneteenth a National Holiday

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  • The House on Wednesday passed a bill to make Juneteenth a national holiday.
  • June 19 marks the day people who were enslaved in the US were emancipated.
  • The Senate passed the bill on Tuesday, and it now heads over to Biden’s desk for his signature.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The House on Wednesday passed bipartisan legislation to make June 19, known as Juneteenth, a national holiday celebrating the emancipation of people who were enslaved in the US. 

The bill passed by a 415-14 vote, with all votes against it coming from Republicans.

“It has been a long journey,” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Democrat from Houston and author of the bill, said on the floor. “This bill and this day is about freedom.”

The bill passed the Senate 24 hours earlier, winning unanimous support on Tuesday. President Joe Biden is expected to sign it into law ahead of this weekend’s annual celebration. 

Sen. Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, had been vocally opposed to the legislation, saying that it was too costly to give federal employees another day off work. But he ended his blockade of the bill on Tuesday, which allowed the Senate to move forward. 

In the House Wednesday, Republican objections largely focused on process, with speakers complaining about the bill being fast-tracked without sufficient committee input. Rep. Clay Higgins, a Republican from Louisiana, objected to the name of the bill, the “Juneteenth National Independence Day Act,” saying that it was “co-opting” the Fourth of July. But he added that he supported it regardless.

Democrats, meanwhile, linked the creation of the holiday to fights for social justice.

“It’s also a recognition that we have so much work to do to rid this country of systemic racism, discrimination, and hate,” Rep. Brenda Lawrence, a Democrat from Detroit, said. “Juneteenth, what we are doing today, should empower us to fight even harder every single day for criminal-justice reform, for racial equality, and for economic empowerment of Black people in America.”

Juneteenth will become the US’s 11th federal holiday. The last one, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, was added to the calendar nearly 40 years ago. The legislation will give federal employees a day off, and private companies are expected to follow suit.

On the campaign trail last year, Biden commemorated the holiday by tweeting: “#Juneteenth reminds us of how vulnerable our nation is to being poisoned by systems and acts of inhumanity—but it’s also a reminder of our ability to change.

“Together, we can lay the roots of real and lasting justice, and become the extraordinary nation that was promised to all.”

Juneteenth, which has been celebrated since the late 1800s, commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas, and announced that the region’s 250,0000 enslaved African Americans had been emancipated, thus ending slavery in the last Confederate territory.

The day came two years after President Abraham Lincoln read the Emancipation Proclamation and a few months after Lincoln signed the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which abolished slavery and “involuntary servitude,” except as punishment for a crime.

“It’s long overdue to be recognized as a federal holiday,” Rep. Randy Weber, a Republican who represents Galveston, said Wednesday. “Juneteenth reminds us of the freedom so bravely defended by so many Americans,”

He added that it “reminds us we have a ways to go.”

Calls to make Juneteenth a national holiday, which has been in the works for years, gained momentum last year amid the nationwide protests in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by a white Minneapolis police officer.

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