The Senate on Tuesday has unanimously passed legislation establishing Juneteenth, June 19, as a federal holiday. The passage happened after Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson dropped his objection to the measure earlier in the day.
The measure was introduced last summer, but Johnson's vocal objections about the cost to taxpayers to pay federal workers for the day off stopped it from passing by unanimous consent. Last year, Johnson and others tried to negotiate swapping Juneteenth for Columbus Day so there would not be another federal holiday added.
This year, the bill gained more Republican support and Johnson dropped his objections.
“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,” the Republican senator said in a statement Tuesday morning. “Therefore, I do not intend to object.”
Many Black Americans have celebrated Juneteenth for decades. It has been a state holiday in Texas for 40 years, and at this time another 46 states and the District of Columbia celebrate it in some way on the state level.
It marks June 19, 1865, when the Union Army brought word to Galveston, Texas that slavery had been outlawed. Then-president Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation two years earlier.
“Commemorating Juneteenth as a national holiday will address this long-ignored gap in our history, recognize the wrong that was done, acknowledge the pain and suffering of generations of slaves and their descendants, and finally celebrate their freedom,” said Sen. Edward Markey who supported the bill.
By making it a federal holiday, the bill only guarantees federal workers will get Juneteenth off, there is no requirement that private businesses give employees the day off.