The Legislative History of Juneteenth

Member Benefits - June 14, 2022
Juneteenth Freedom Day: woman in brightly colored dress holding her hands straight out as 2 birds fly by

Juneteenth was established as a federal holiday in 2021

After years of efforts made by activists and Congress members to recognize Juneteenth as a national holiday, it finally became official in 2021: Juneteenth is a federal holiday! This momentous day represents the continued effort to pursue equality and remember a significant period in American history.

The Juneteenth National Independence Day Act passed the Senate on June 15, 2021, and the house on June 16, 2021, and was signed into public law just in time for its 156th anniversary.

To celebrate, let’s break down the history and all the legislative efforts that led to acknowledging Juneteenth as a federal holiday.

What is Juneteenth?

The story of this holiday was born in Texas in 1865 when all enslaved people were officially freed.

While enslaved people were technically declared free two years prior by Abraham Lincoln in the Emancipation Proclamation, this act didn’t free all of them. Even when General Robert E. Lee surrendered in April 1865, they weren’t technically freed until federal troops arrived in Galveston and delivered the good news.

Federal troops were led by General Gordon Granger, who then issued General Order No. 3 – this informed the people of Texas that enslaved people were free, and the 13th amendment was ratified later that year. Let freedom ring!

The legislative history of Juneteenth

In 1979, Texas State Legislature passed a law to recognize Juneteenth. Throughout the years, there have been multiple bills that aimed to federally recognize Juneteenth and several advocates that fought for this recognition. One of those advocates was Barbara-Rose Collins, the first to introduce a bill recognizing the end of slavery in the U.S. and the true ‘Independence Day’ for African Americans.

In recent years, Juneteenth has become more and more of a debate topic in Congress. In 2018, Senator Roger F. Wicker introduced a resolution to recognize Juneteenth as an Independence Day for African Americans. In 2019 and 2020, Representative Sheila Jackson Lee introduced resolutions to recognize “Juneteenth Independence Day,” and Senator John Cornyn introduced similar resolutions in both 2019 and 2020.

Today, all these efforts made by Congress members are recognized. Millions of Americans celebrate Juneteenth by pausing to reflect on American history and celebrating the continued fight for equality, justice and freedom.

Get educated this June 19

This year will mark the second year of Juneteenth being a federal holiday, so let’s celebrate! To get started, here are some resources that explain more about what Juneteenth is and ways to recognize the holiday.

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