The U.S. Senate has unanimously passed a resolution establishing June 19 as Juneteenth National independence Day, a national holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.
The legislation has gained momentum within the last year due to the rising global Black Lives Matter movement sparked by the police killing of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, as well as the Democratic Party’s congressional takeover.
The bill was blocked last year by politicians who believed having the day off for federal employees would cost U.S. taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson dropped his objection this week despite his concerns, which allowed the bill to pass through the Senate.
“Although I strongly support celebrating Emancipation, I objected to the cost and lack of debate,” said Johnson in a statement. “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.”
For 157 years, Juneteenth (a portmanteau of “June” and “nineteenth”) has commemorated the day in when a group of enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, finally learned they were free from the institution of slavery — two-and-a-half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
The bill comes at an interesting time for racial legislation. While the bill to recognized the ending of slavery passed unanimously through the Senate, legislation surrounding critical race theory and reparations have been met with heavy opposition. Many states have banned critical race theory from being taught in schools, which means students could grow up not having a full understanding of the importance of Juneteenth.
The House will vote on the legislation on Wednesday before moving on to President Joe Biden’s desk — just in time for Saturday’s Juneteenth celebration.