President Biden signed a bill Thursday making Juneteenth a national holiday, making the adoption America’s newest national holiday. Juneteenth, which is a day celebrating the day in which the last enslaved Americans learned of their emancipation from slavery.
This commemoration of the last of the slaves learning of their newfound freedom has long been celebrated in communities across the country but has struggled in recent attempts to become a nationally recognized holiday. The passing of this bill unanimously in the Senate then sent the bill to the House where it was also passed and was then sent to President Biden to sign into law.
Biden said the day would now be a “day in which we remember the moral stain and terrible toll slavery took on the country,” as he signed the bill accompanied by members of the Congressional Black Caucus and Vice President Harris. The President referred to the passing of the bill as “one of the greatest honors I will have had as President.”
He also used this momentous occasion to again take a swipe at the new voting reforms put in place by GOP-led states, saying the promise of equality would not be fulfilled “so long as the sacred right to vote remains under attack.” To which the room responded in an uproar of applause.
“We see this assault from restrictive laws, threats of intimidation, voter purges and more.”
“The promise of equality will not be fulfilled until it becomes real in our schools, on our streets and in our neighborhoods, in the water that comes out of our faucets, the air that we breathe in our communities and in our justice system,” the president continued.
Biden said the nation would continue to work to root out hate, which he said “never ends” but “only hides.”
“In short, this day doesn’t just celebrate the past, it calls for action today,” Biden said.
This bill saw bipartisan support in both the Senate and the House, with opposition from 14 House Republican lawmakers when it came for a vote Wednesday evening. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, along with Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, authored the bill proposing the day be marked as a national holiday in America.
“There’s nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come. And it seems to me that this is the most propitious time for us to recognize our history and to learn from it,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said before the House vote Wednesday. Juneteenth is already a state-designated holiday in Texas.
Juneteenth is the anniversary of when Union Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, arrived in Galveston, Texas, to declare that the Civil War was over and that slaves must be freed. Slavery ended in other southern states before that but because of how far Texas was from the Union’s power center around Washington, D.C., and the Northeast, there were not enough Union soldiers to enforce Lincoln’s order.
Texas first made Juneteenth an official holiday in 1980, and most states eventually followed with at least some form of Juneteenth observance.
Of the Republican holdouts, two come to mind as they cleared up the reasons for their opposition, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and House member Chip Roy, R-Texas. Johnson objected to the idea that the taxpayers would need to foot the bill for another day off for federal employees while Roy’s disapproval came about due to semantics.
“Juneteenth should be commemorated as the expression of the realization of the end of slavery in the United States – and I commend those who worked for its passage,” Roy said. “I could not vote for this bill, however, because the holiday should not be called ‘Juneteenth National Independence Day’ but rather, ‘Juneteenth National Emancipation [or Freedom or otherwise] Day.’”
Roy continued, “This name needlessly divides our nation on a matter that should instead bring us together by creating a separate Independence Day based on the color of one’s skin.”
Various other lawmakers gave their differing opinions as to why they declined to vote in favor of the measure but in total only 14 republicans decide to do so.
Those House members who voted against the bill are Reps. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz.; Mo Brooks, R-Ala.; Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn.; Paul Gosar, R-Ariz.; Ronny Jackson, R-Texas; Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif.; Thomas Massie, R-Ky.; Tom McClintock, R-Calif.; Ralph Norman, R-S.C.; Mike Rogers, R-Ala.; Matt Rosendale, R-Mont.; Chip Roy, R-Texas, and Thomas Tiffany, R-Wis.
Reasons ranging from the actual date of the holiday to those who thought this was more “critical race theory” in action. Nonetheless, the bill was signed and will mark the adoption of America’s newest national holiday in decades. Cause for celebration from some and condemnation for others. Regardless the message should remain clear, while our country may not have always lived up to the words of our Founding Fathers, the people of this country have always made a concerted effort to right the wrong of the past and make sure those lessons are not lost on us all.
Optimistically, we hope this in some small way could help heal the divide this country feels so deeply currently, but logic would take over and remind us that perhaps the problems we face cannot be repaired with mere passing of holidays, no matter how unifying they may seem.