The United States Senate has voted unanimously to approve the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act. In the coming days, the bill will move from the United States Senate to the United States House of Representatives, where it is expected to pass. If the bill does pass as expected, Juneteenth will become the first new national holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was added in 1983.
The push to make Juneteenth a national holiday was recently reignited by the deaths of unarmed Black Americans at the hands of police last summer. With the persistence of activist Opal Lee and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, the bill made its way through the United States House of Representatives. Sen. Ed Markey introduced the bill to the United States Senate days later. However, it stalled in the United States Senate because of Sens. Ron Johnson and James Lankford. This time around, the two lawmakers stood down out of fear of backlash from their colleagues and constituents.
“While it still seems strange that having taxpayers provide federal employees paid time off is now required to celebrate the end of slavery, it is clear that there is no appetite in Congress to further discuss the matter,” Johnson said.
“Therefore, I do not intend to object.”
In contrast, Markey was happy to see the bill pass because he feels that America has "failed to acknowledge, address, and come to grips with our nation’s original sin of slavery."
"Today’s Senate passage of our legislation to commemorate Juneteenth as a federal holiday will address this long-ignored gap in our history, recognize the wrong that was done, acknowledge the pain and suffering of generations of slaves and their descendants, and finally celebrate their freedom," Markey added.
While establishing Juneteenth as a federal holiday is an important step in the process, many individual state governments were way ahead of the federal government. Four dozen states had already recognized the holiday in some fashion and many companies like Nike, Target and NPR have already acknowledged the holiday.
Moreover, the irony of making Juneteenth a national holiday in the midst of efforts to ban critical race theory from classrooms is not lost upon many Americans. In addition, acts of police violence that sparked the push to make Juneteenth a national holiday still occur far too often. Not to mention, the federal government has passed a bill to make Juneteenth a national holiday before making lynching a federal hate crime or formalizing the George Floyd Justice In Policing Act.