Published: 18th June 2021
What the FAQ: What is ‘Juneteenth’, the newest federal holiday in the United States?
In a historic move, the United States has recognised June 19 as a second independence day in recognition of African American slaves in Texas who were freed under the emancipation proclamation
On June 17, US President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris signed a bill that declares June 19 or ‘Juneteenth’ as a federal holiday for the entire nation. In his address to the nation, Biden said, “Great nations don’t ignore their most painful moments. Great nations don’t walk away. We come to terms with the mistakes we made. And remembering those moments, we begin to heal and grow stronger.” What does the date represent in US history. Here’s what we found:
What happened on June 19?
On 19 June 1865, African American slaves from Galveston, Texas were declared as free men. Following a civil war in the country where the northern states fought against the south, General Grainger, an army officer, was the one to make the declaration. Many celebrate the historic day as the first major step towards African American freedom.
Although the events took place more than two years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, this was a landmark move in Texas, where the practice of slavery was most widespread. And in celebration of this, many US citizens consider this the end of slavery. This year, the sentiment was recognised and embedded into US law.
How was it passed as a law?
According to the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation, the move to recognise Juneteenth began in 1994 when leaders from around the country grouped together in New Orleans, Louisiana to advocate for its recognition. As senator of Illinois, Barack Obama sponsored a legislation that would lead to Juneteenth being declared national holiday, but it was never passed.
Washington DC and 49 states have already recognised Juneteenth as a holiday. New York and Virginia governors had declared it as a holiday for state employees. In fact, South Dakota is the only state where it is unrecognised till date. After being approved by the senate, the US House of Representatives approved the law with a support of 415-14 before President Biden finally signed it into action. A group of 14 House Republicans were the only ones to vote against it.
How will the day be observed?
Now, federal workers will observe the holiday starting this year. Washington DC and Maryland have made the announcement that government offices would be closed on June 19. In the district of Columbia, public schools will also observe a holiday. Celebrations vary across the country which includes parades, games, contests and food drives.