“I introduced this to make Juneteenth a federal holiday to commemorate the end of chattel slavery, America’s original sin, and to bring about celebration, crushing racial divide down to a point of unity,” said Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, Democrat of Texas, a lead sponsor of the legislation to designate Juneteenth as a national holiday, commemorating the end of slavery. 

On Thursday, June 17th, the historical bill was signed into law. “We are gathered here in a house built by enslaved people. We are footsteps away from where President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation,” Vice President Kamala Harris said at the White House signing ceremony. “We have come far, and we have far to go. But today is a day of celebration. It is not only a day of pride. It’s also a day for us to reaffirm and rededicate ourselves to action.”

Juneteenth has been celebrated by Americans unofficially for years, going by many other names including Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Liberation Day, and Emancipation Day. Widely considered to be America’s second day of independence, has been celebrated in a number of ways all over the US since 1866. Only three states have not recognized Juneteenth in some capacity, Hawaii, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

Emancipation Proclamation, image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Juneteeth specifically refers to June 19, 1865, when Major General Gordon Granger informed enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Texas, that the Civil War had ended and that they were free, two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had become official. However, in Texas, one of the largest slave states at the time, the proclamation was very poorly and inconsistently enforced. In fact, an estimated 150,000 slaves were relocated to the state after Union troops captured New Orleans, Louisiana in 1862.

Following the racial reckoning triggered by the police killings of Black citizens Breonna Taylor and George Floyd last summer 2020, our country has placed a renewed emphasis on the eponymous date; and for good reason.

This is a momentous move for Capitol Hill that Democrats had been pushing for its passage for years. Unfortunately, many Republicans were still against the measure. Republican representatives, like Rep. Paul Gosar of western Arizona since 2013, said in a statement on Wednesday that “Juneteenth is more debunked Critical Race Theory in action.” The erasure of the painful violent American history remains in some educational institutions across America. This failure to acknowledges America’s ugly past would dismiss the realities of systematic racism today that disproportionately damages the livelihoods of African-Americans. 

Biden explained that making Juneteenth a national holiday would enable all Americans to “feel the power of this day and learn from our history, and celebrate the progress, and grapple with the distance we’ve come, and the distance we have to travel.” Great nations “don’t ignore their most painful moments,”. Biden said. “We come to terms with the mistakes we’ve made,” he added, in order to remember them and begin to heal and grow stronger.

A modern flag variation of the Juneteenth flag. Designed by Mike Tré. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Acknowledging the end of slavery is an important move for the country where the narrative of chattel slavery and its harmful impacts are under attack, as people try to erase the damage of it and misrepresent the past. It is crucial to learn about the deep roots of American racism in order to move forward and amend its toxic modern effects on minorities, especially Black and brown Americans.

Federal employees have their first Juneteeth off this Friday, June 18th, 2021, one day earlier than the weekend. Many businesses will be closed this Saturday in observance of the holiday. 

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