A new eleventh national federal holiday? Freedom Day, Juneteenth

Will there soon be an eleventh national federal holiday?

The U.S. Senate unanimously passed a bill Tuesday, June 15, to establish Juneteenth, the day marking the end of slavery in the United States, as a national holiday. The bill now goes to the House of Representatives, where its passage is virtually guaranteed, and then on to President Biden’s desk to be signed into law.

Union Army General Gordon Granger

Historically, another name for the proposed June 19, Juneteenth, holiday is Freedom Day as it marks the emancipation of formerly enslaved African Americans, by commemorating the date in 1865 when slaves in Galveston, Texas, come to know of their freedom. It is commemorated on the anniversary date of the June 19, 1865, announcement of General Order No. 3 by Union Army general Gordon Granger, proclaiming freedom from slavery in Texas. It freed all remaining enslaved people in the state.

Some Black Americans have celebrated Freedom Day since the late 1800s and the holiday has gained in popularity in recent years. In some ways the new proposed holiday is like the 4th of July holiday in how it is celebrated by the public, although the same could be said of other holidays such as Memorial Day, Labor Day, and Veterans Day. Freedom Day is celebrated today in many cities and towns across the country by marking the date with festivals, parades, barbecues, and educational events.

Emancipation Day Celebration – June 19, 1900 (photo from public domain)

It has been a state holiday in Texas for more than 40 years, which surprises many to hear. (Well, unless you live in Texas!) Pennsylvania now permanently recognizes Juneteenth, as a state holiday. Governor Tom Wolf on Wednesday, June 19, 2019, signed legislation designating June 19 as Juneteenth National Freedom Day in Pennsylvania.

In a rare display of bipartisanship, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, introduced the bill last spring at the height of racial tension in the country following the murder of George Floyd by police, but could not find the support needed then. Now, a year later, the bill included 18 Republican co-sponsors. Not for the first time it seems that widespread national protests, such as the Black Lives Matter Movement, can and do change both politics and society.

If the bill becomes law, Juneteenth will become the 11th annual federal holiday.