Congress Approves Bill for Juneteenth National Independence Day

On June 19, 1865, enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas were freed. Union soldiers carried the news of freedom a couple of months after the Confederacy had surrendered. Now, the United States is set to commemorate the occasion as a federal holiday. 

On June 16, the House voted 415-14 to mark Juneteenth as a federal holiday. After President Joe Biden signs it into law, the date will become the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983. The day will be called Juneteenth National Independence Day. The vote comes in light of the divisions on police reform that have emerged after the killing of George Floyd by police.

Fourteen House Republicans voted against the bill: Andy Biggs, Mo Brooks, Andrew Clyde, Scott DesJarlais, Paul Gosar, Ronny Jackson, Doug LaMalfa, Thomas Massie, Tom McClintock, Ralph Norman, Mike Rogers, Matt Rosendale, Chip Roy, and Tom Tiffany. Although Louisiana Representative Clay Higgins stated that he would vote for the bill, he voiced his opposition to the word “Independence” included in the name instead of “emancipation.” 

“Why would the Democrats want to politicize this by co-opting the name of our sacred holiday of Independence Day?” Higgins questioned. In response to this, Rep Brenda Lawrence, Michigan Democrat, addressed her white colleagues with, “Getting your independence from being enslaved in a country is different from a country getting independence to rule themselves.”

Edward Markey, Senator for Massachusetts, sponsored the bill, which also had 60 co-sponsors. Rep Matt Rosendale opposed the bill stating that the federal holiday was an effort that vouched for “identity politics.” In a press release, he said he believed that the focus should be on “what unites us rather than our differences.” 

Most states already observe Juneteenth as a holiday or hold celebrations. For state employees in Texas, New York, Virginia, and Washington, it is a paid holiday.