US President Joe Biden is soon expected to sign a law making June 19, or “Juneteenth”, a national holiday recognised by the federal government, commemorating the end of slavery after the American Civil War (1861-65).
A bill to establish Juneteenth National Independence Day received bipartisan support in both houses of the US Congress this week, and now needs to be approved by the White House to become law.
The legislation comes a year after the killing of George Floyd triggered anti-racism protests across the country, bringing about a national reckoning on systemic racism.
Juneteenth will be the first new federal holiday created in almost four decades, and will now enjoy the same status as the 10 existing annual holidays, which include Memorial Day, Veterans Day and Thanksgiving. The last such holiday – Martin Luther King Jr. Day – was created in 1983, in honour of the civil rights hero.
On June 19, 1865, two months after the Civil War had ended, Major General Gordon Granger, from the victorious Union side, arrived in Galveston, Texas, and issued an order to free the last enslaved people on US soil.
What is Juneteenth?
Juneteenth– the portmanteau of June and nineteenth– is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the US, observed on June 19 every year.
At present, it is recognised as a holiday in 47 US states and the District of Columbia. It is also known as Emancipation Day or Juneteenth Independence Day.
Last year, legislation to make Juneteenth a federal holiday was blocked in the then-Republican controlled Senate after Ron Johnson, an ardent Trump supporter, opposed the measure, saying an additional federal holiday would mean taxpayers footing a bill worth millions of dollars due to paid leaves for federal government employees.
This time around, the bill has been passed unanimously by the powerful 100-member chamber.
On January 1, 1863, then-president Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared that “all persons held as slaves” within the states in rebellion “are, and henceforward shall be free.”
Even so, more than two years after Lincoln’s proclamation, many slave owners continued to hold their slaves captive by hiding this information from them and keeping them for one more harvest season, as per the Congressional Research Service (CRS).