You might recall that a year ago we circulated a petition asking Congress to make Juneteenth a national holiday. Yesterday, Congress made history by overwhelmingly passing legislation to make Juneteenth a national holiday. The bill now goes to President Biden’s desk for his signature which is expected. This is indeed an historic event and cause for celebration! The last federal holiday which was enacted was Martin Luther King Jr. Day which became a state holiday in 1982 and a federal holiday in 1986.
Juneteenth celebrates June 19th, 1865, the day when the Union Army issued an order proclaiming the emancipation of the still enslaved people in Galveston, TX–a full two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation for enslaved people to be freed nationwide. The name Juneteenth comes from a blending of the date “June Nineteenth.”
Juneteenth became the date to celebrate true emancipation once these last slaves were freed. Our black ancestors have celebrated this date as the promise of liberation and a hope for freedom.
Unlike holidays recognizing pivotal moments in white history like Thanksgiving day, Juneteenth is not widely known or taught in schools. While some states already recognize it as a state holiday, it has not been recognized as a national holiday where federal offices are all closed to allow space for this celebration. That is all changing now and we are hopeful that California will soon follow suit and declare Juneteenth a State holiday as well.
Juneteenth becoming a national holiday in 2021, 156 years after the date which it celebrates, is also a stark reminder that the fight to dismantle systemic racism is a long, difficult process. As Dr. King famously stated: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Nationwide recognition of this new holiday hopefully brings us one step closer to a more just nation.