The U.S. Senate has passed legislation making Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery, a nationally recognized holiday.
On June 19, 1965, two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, union ships docked in Galveston, Tx and Major General Gordon Granger told enslaved African Americans they were free.
The measure is expected to pass easily in the House of Representatives and President Joe Biden is sure to sign it. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement, recognizing Juneteenth is a major first step but changing the wrongs of the past will take more work.
“Making Juneteenth a federal holiday is a major step forward to recognize the wrongs of the past,” Schumer said in a statement. “But we must continue to work to ensure equal justice and fulfill the promise of the Emancipation Proclamation and our Constitution.”
The legislation gained traction last summer during the Black Lives Matter protests and racial equity movement. However, Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) blocked the legislation because he felt another day off for federal employees would cost US taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.
Johnson dropped his objection this year, but he hasn’t changed his mind.
“Although I strongly support celebrating Emancipation, I objected to the cost and lack of debate,” Johnson in a statement according to CNN. “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.”
Juneteenth became a state holiday in Texas in 1980 in the years since it became recognized by every state except South Dakota. While many see this is a historic moment, others see it as an empty gesture, considering the Senate hasn’t taken up the anti-lynching bill, the For the People Act or the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.