On June 17, 2021, President Joe Biden raised his pen to a historically important bill known as “Juneteenth Independence Day,” making this the first new national federal holiday since 1983, when Martin Luther King Jr. Day was signed into law by former President Ronald Reagan.
With pride, President Biden signed the legislation into law, marking June 19 an official federal holiday. This historic holiday grants every federal employee a day off to commemorate the day when the last enslaved African Americans got word that the Civil War had ended.
Thursday afternoon, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris announced the signing of the Juneteenth National Independence Day act. Telling the many listening that he was “grateful to the members of Congress here today. In particular, the congressional black caucus. Who did so much to make this day possible.”
Biden signed the legislation into law he visually emphasized its importance by singing the letters of his name individually, a presidential tradition that was halted by the former president in 2016.
The legislation passed the Senate unanimously on Tuesday, June 15, 2021, then passed through the House a day later with an overwhelming vote of 415-14, on June 16, 2021.
The 14 votes against the bill within the House were made by GOP members of congress:
- Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona
- Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama
- Rep. Andrew Clyde of Georgia
- Rep. Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee
- Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona
- Rep. Ronny Jackson of Texas
- Rep. Doug LaMalfa of California
- Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky
- Rep. Tom McClintock of California
- Rep. Ralph Norman of South Carolina
- Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama
- Rep. Matt Rosendale of Montana
- Rep. Chip Roy of Texas
- Rep. Tom Tiffany of Wisconsin
Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie criticized the naming of the bill. “I fully support creating a day to celebrate the abolition of slavery, a dark portion of our nation’s history,” Rep. Massie said. “However, naming this day ‘National Independence Day’ will create confusion and push Americans to pick one of those two days as their independence day based on their racial identity.”
The Kentucky representative continued “Why can’t we name this Emancipation Day, and come together as Americans, and celebrate that day together as Americans: black and white, all colors, all races, all ethnicities, and then come together on Independence Day, which celebrates the creation of our country throwing off an oppressive government.”
Michigan Representative Brenda Lawrence counterargued Massie’s viewpoint, saying “I want to say to my white colleagues on the other side: Getting your independence from being enslaved in a country is different from a country getting independence to rule themselves.”
After the legislation passed the Senate, Texas Sen. John Cornyn tweeted, “Happy that my bill to recognize Juneteenth as a national holiday just passed the Senate. It has been a state holiday in Texas for more than 40 years. Now more than ever, we need to learn from our history and continue to form a more perfect union.”
Once it passed the House, Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee tweeted, “I was proud to preside over the historic debate to make Juneteenth a [National] Federal Holiday.”
Texas was one of the first states to declare Juneteenth a holiday. The legislation was passed in June 1979, declaring Juneteenth a national holiday. Following Texas’s decision, every state but South Dakota came to make Juneteenth but only a handful of states observed it as a paid holiday.
Juneteenth stands as the second National Federal Holiday that recognizes the history and culture of African Americans and America’s history of slavery. Specifically, Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in America. It is also known as Emancipation Day, Jubilee Day. The name for the holiday originates from when Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger in Galveston, Texas, issued General order no. 3, which announced that in accordance with the Emancipation Proclamation, “all slaves are free” A few months later, 13th amendment was ratified, abolishing slavery.
The Juneteenth Independence Day bill goes into effect immediately, making Friday the first federal Juneteenth holiday in American History.