On June 17, 2021, President Joe Biden signed S.475 into law. A Statement was posted on The White House website that said: S.475, “Juneteenth National Independence Day Act,” which designates Juneteenth National Independence Day as a legal public holiday.
In order for a bill to be signed by the President of the United States, it has to pass through both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. This new legal public holiday is significant because it celebrates the end of slavery in the United States.
How the Juneteenth bill became a legal public holiday
On February 25, 2021, H.R. 1320 was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives. It was sponsored by Representative Shelia Jackson Lee (Democrat – Texas). The purpose of the bill was: “To amend title 5, United States Code, to establish Juneteenth Independence Day as a Federal holiday, and for other purposes.” The short title of the bill was “Juneteenth National Independence Day Act.”
There were 171 co-sponsors of H.R. 1320, all of whom were from the Democratic Party. There were also 2 co-sponsors from the Republican Party: Representative Randy K. Weber (Republican – Texas) and Representative Van Taylor (Republican – Texas).
H.R. 1320 was sent to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform that same day.
On February 25, 2021, S.475 was introduced in the U.S. Senate. The short title of this bill was “Juneteenth National Independence Day Act”.
On June 15, 2021, S.Res.269 was submitted to the U.S. Senate. It was sponsored by Senator John Cornyn (Republican – Texas). The purpose of the resolution was: “A resolution designating June 19, 2021, as “Juneteenth Independence Day” in recognition of June 19, 1865, the date on which news of the end of slavery reached the slaves in the Southwestern States.”
S.Res. 269 said:
Designating June 19, 2021, as “Juneteenth Independence Day” in recognition of June 19, 1865, the date on which news of the end of slavery reached the slaves in the Southwestern States.
Whereas, news of the end of slavery did not reach the frontier areas of the United States, in particular the State of Texas and the other Southwestern States, until months after the conclusion of the Civil War, more than 2 1/2 years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863;
Whereas, on June 19, 1865, Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, arrived in Galveston, Texas, with news that the Civil War had ended and the enslaved were free;
Whereas African Americans who had been slaves in the Southwest celebrated June 19, commonly known as “Juneteenth Independence Day”, as inspiration and encouragement for future generations;
Whereas Juneteenth Independence Day began as a holiday in the State of Texas and is now celebrated in 48 States and the District of Columbia as a special day of observance in recognition of the emancipation of all slaves in the United States;
Whereas Juneteenth Independence Day celebrations have been held to honor African-American freedom while encouraging self-development and respect for all cultures;
Whereas the faith and strength of character demonstrated by former slaves and the descendants of former slaves remain an example for all people of the United States, regardless of background, religion or race;
Whereas slavery was not officially abolished until the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States in December 1865; and
Whereas, over the course of its history, the United States has grown into a symbol of democracy and freedom around the world; Now therefore, be it
Resolved, That the Senate –
(1) designates June 19, 2021, as “Juneteenth Independence Day”;
(2) recognizes the historical significance of Juneteenth Independence Day to the United States;
(3) supports the continued nationwide celebration of Juneteenth Independence Day to provide an opportunity for the people of the United States to learn more about the past and to better understand the experiences that have shaped the United States; and
(4) recognizes that the observance of the end of slavery is part of the history and heritage of the United States.
There were 54 co-sponsors of S.Res.269. 28 were from the Democratic Party. 25 were from the Republican Party. 1 was from the Independent Party.
S.Res.269 was agreed to without amendment and with a preamble by Unanimous Consent.
On June 16, 2021, the U.S. House of Representatives held a Roll Call vote on S. 475. The vote was 415 YEAS to 14 NAYS with two Senators not voting.
Here’s what the vote looks like if you break it down by party:
- Democratic Party: 220 YEAS – 0 NAYS – 0 Present – 0 Not Voting
- Republican Party: 195 YEAS – 14 NAYS – 0 Present – 2 Not Voting
- Independent Party: 0 YEAS – 0 NAYS – 0 Present – 0 Not Voting
- Total: 415 YEAS – 14 NAYS – 0 Present – 2 Not Voting
The fourteen Representatives who voted NAY are:
- Andy Biggs (Republican – Arizona)
- Mo Biggs (Republican – Alabama)
- Andrew S. Clyde (Republican – Georgia)
- Scott DesJarlais (Republican – Tennessee)
- Paul A. Gosar (Republican – Arizona)
- Ronny Jackson (Republican – Texas)
- Doug LaMalfa (Republican – California)
- Thomas Massie (Republican – Kentucky)
- Tom McClintock (Republican – California)
- Ralph Norman (Republican – South Carolina)
- Mike Rogers (Republican – Alabama)
- Matthew M. Rosendale, Sr. (Republican – Montana)
- Chip Roy (Republican – Texas)
- Thomas P. Tiffany (Republican – Wisconsin)
On June 17, 2021, S.475 was presented to President Biden, who signed it into law.
On June 18, 2021, President Biden posted a Presidential Action on The White House website titled: “A Proclamation on Juneteenth Day of Observance, 2021”. From the Presidential Action:
On June 18, 1865 – nearly nine decades after our Nation’s founding, and more than 2 years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation – enslaved Americans in Galveston, Texas, finally received word that they were free from bondage. As those who were formerly enslaved were recognized for the first time as citizens, Black Americans came to commemorate Juneteenth with celebrations across the country, building new lives and a new tradition that we honor today. In its celebration of freedom, Juneteenth is a day that should be recognized by all Americans. And that is why I am proud to have consecrated Juneteenth as our newest national holiday.
Juneteenth is a day of profound weight and power.
A day in which we remember the moral stain and terrible toll of slavery on our country — what I’ve long called America’s original sin. A long legacy of systemic racism, inequality, and inhumanity.
But it is also a day that reminds us of our incredible capacity to heal, hope, and emerge from our darkest moments with purpose and resolve.
As I said on the 100th Anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, great nations don’t ignore the most painful chapters of their past. Great nations confront them. We come to terms with them.
On Juneteenth, we recommit ourselves to the work of equity, equality, and justice. And, we celebrate the centuries of struggle, courage, and hope that have brought us to this time of progress and possibility. That work has been led throughout our history by abolitionists and educators, civil rights advocates and lawyers, courageous activists and trade unionists, public officials, and everyday Americans who have helped make real the ideals of our founding documents for all…
…Juneteenth not only commemorates the past. it calls us to action today.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR., President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim June 19, 2021, as Juneteenth Day of Observance. I call upon the people of the United States to acknowledge and celebrate the end of the Civil War and the emancipation of Black Americans, and commit together to eradicate systemic racism that still undermines our founding ideals and collective prosperity.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this eighteenth day of June, in the year of our Lord two thousand and twenty-one, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty fifth.
On June 17, 2021, NPR updated their article titled: “One Woman’s Decades-Long Fight To Make Juneteenth A U.S. Holiday”. It was written by Vanessa Romo. From the article:
Opal Lee is 94, and she’s doing a holy dance.
It’s a dance she said she and her ancestors have been waiting 155 years, 11 months, and 28 days to do.
Ever since Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, to spread the news of the Emancipation Proclamation outlawing slavery in Confederate states. President Abraham Lincoln had signed it more than two years earlier.
“And now we can all finally celebrate. The whole country together,” Lee told NPR minutes after a landslide House vote on Wednesday approving legislation establishing the day, now known as Juneteenth, as a federal holiday to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States.
President Biden signed the bill on Thursday, and Lee was standing beside him during the ceremony…
The History of Juneteenth
You might, or might not, have been taught about Juneteenth in history classes when you were in school. It depends on where you lived. Here is a brief explanation of the history of Juneteenth.
President Abraham Lincoln was the 16th president of the United States. He was elected in November of 1860, shortly before the Civil War broke out. Shortly after the Battle of Antietam, President Lincoln issued a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, which took effect on January 1, 1863. It freed all enslaved people in the “rebellious states” not under federal control, but left those in the border states (loyal to the Union) in bondage.
The Emancipation Proclamation did not end all slavery across the United States. It only applied to the 11 Confederate states then at war with the Union, and only to a portion of those states not already under Union control.
According to History.com, there was a “battle” over the Thirteenth Amendment.
In April of 1864, the U.S. Senate passed a proposed amendment banning slavery with the necessary two-thirds majority. But the amendment faltered in the U.S. House of Representatives, as more and more Democrats refused to support it (especially during an election season).
When Congress reconvened in December of 1864, the emboldened Republicans put a vote on the proposed amendment at the top of their agenda. More than any previous point in his presidency, Lincoln threw himself in the legislative process, inviting individual representatives to his office to discuss the amendment and putting pressure on border-state Unionists (who had previously opposed it) to change their positions.
History.com stated that the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified in 1865, in the aftermath of the Civil War. By 1861, when the Civil war broke out, more then 4 million people (nearly all of them of African descent) were enslaved in 15 southern and border states. The Thirteenth Amendment was the first explicit mention of the institution of slavery in the U.S. Constitution.
On January 31, 1865, the House of Representatives passed the proposed amendment with a vote of 119-56, just over the two-thirds majority. The following day, Lincoln approved a joint resolution of Congress submitting it to state legislatures for ratification. Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865. Several states did not ratify the Thirteenth Amendment until December 6, 1865.
President Lincoln’s proclamation became the Thirteenth Amendment in the United States Constitution. It says:
Section 1: Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
Section 2: Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
The National Museum of African American History and Culture, and the Smithsonian, together provided information about the historical legacy of Juneteenth.
…But not everyone in Confederate territory would immediately be free. Even though the Emancipation Proclamation was made effective in 1863, it could not be implemented in places still under Confederate control. As a result, in the westernmost Confederate state of Texas, enslaved people would not be free until much later. Freedom finally came on June 19, 1865, when some 2,000 Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas. The army announced that the more than 250,000 enslaved black people in the state were free by executive decree. This day came to be known as “Juneteenth,” by the newly freed people in Texas…
Things to Know about Juneteenth
The National Juneteenth Observance Foundation (NJOF) has created the Juneteenth flag. It was created by the former founder of NJOF Massachusetts Juneteenth State Director and Founder of the National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation (NJCF) Ben Haith, in 1997. In 2000, the phrase “June 19, 1865” was added to the flag.
The Congressional Research Service states that Texans celebrated Juneteenth beginning in 1866 with community-centric events, such as parades, cookouts, prayer gatherings, historic cultural readings, and musical performances. On January 1, 1980, Juneteenth officially became a Texas state holiday.
CNBC reported that Juneteenth National Independence Day will become the 12th legal public holiday, including Inauguration Day, and the first new one created since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was signed into law in 1983 by then-president Ronald Reagan.
On June 17, 2021, the Office of Personnel Management @USOPM tweeted: “Today @POTUS will sign the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, establishing June 19th as a federal holiday. As the 19th falls on a Saturday, most federal employees will observe the holiday tomorrow, June 18th.”
On June 17, 2021, Forbes reported that when President Biden signed the legislation that made Juneteenth a legal public holiday, he gave millions of federal employees Friday off to celebrate. This makes 44 paid days off for the average federal employee annually, which is nearly nine full weeks of paid-time off each year.
On June 18, 2021, NPR reported that the U.S Postal Service remained open on Juneteenth, expressing support for the holiday but saying that it is “not possible to cease the operations of the Postal Service” with just 24 to 48 hours to plan for it.
NPR also reported that some federal courts shut down, but not all did.
School districts had to make their own decisions about whether to stay open on Friday or shut with very little notice to families. Federal holidays aren’t mandatory for businesses or nonprofits, but some chose to close on Juneteenth.
On June 18, 2021, ABC News 7 reported that many major corporations were giving their employees paid time off to celebrate and commemorate Juneteenth. Most federal workers will observe the holiday. Companies are not required to give their employees paid time off.