Senate votes unanimously to make Juneteenth a federal holiday

Americans could soon find a new official federal holiday on their calendars, one that marks a rather significant event in the nation’s history.

By unanimous consent on Tuesday, the Senate voted to pass a bill that would make Juneteenth a federal holiday to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States, Axios reported.

Juneteenth marks the date of June 19, 1865, when the last remaining slaves in southern Texas were informed by the Union Army of their freedom a few months after the Civil War had formally ended and more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

That date is already a holiday, or at least commemorated to some degree, in 49 states plus the District of Columbia.

Freedom of all Americans should be celebrated

“The freedom of all Americans that Texas celebrates every Juneteenth should be celebrated all across the nation,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), the lead Republican sponsor of the bill, according to The Hill.

“The passage of this bill represents a big step in our nation’s journey toward equality,” he added. “I thank my colleagues in the Senate for their support, and my fellow Texans who have been celebrating this important holiday for more than a century.”

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), who had objected and blocked a similar effort to make Juneteenth a national holiday last year, did not do so this time. His prior objection had been for financial reasons — he doesn’t think taxpayers should have to pay for another day off for federal workers — and he had proposed a swap of Juneteenth with Columbus Day to keep the number and cost of paid federal holidays the same.

In a statement issued Tuesday, Johnson said, “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. Therefore, I do not intend to object.”

Public opinion

The Juneteenth national holiday bill is expected to be passed quickly by the Democratic-controlled House, and will undoubtedly be signed into law by President Joe Biden when it reaches his desk, according to Newsweek.

As for the idea of making Juneteenth a federal holiday nationwide, a Gallup Panel survey of 3,572 U.S. adults, with a margin of error of 2%, found that 35% were in favor of the idea compared to 25% who opposed it, with 40% responding that they weren’t sure or didn’t know enough about Juneteenth to make an informed decision.

That unfamiliarity with the meaning and origin of Juneteenth by a plurality of Americans — 37% know “a lot” or “some” about it, 34% know “a little bit,” and 28% know “nothing at all” — flowed directly into another question posed by Gallup — whether more information about Juneteenth should be added into public school curriculum.

To that question, 49% said Juneteenth should be taught in public schools, compared to 16% who said it shouldn’t be part of the curriculum and 35% who didn’t know or were unfamiliar with the date’s significance.

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