Federal government to observe Juneteenth holiday on Friday

WASHINGTON (thehill): The federal government will give employees the day off on Friday after President Biden signs a bill making Juneteenth, which marks the end of slavery in America, a federal holiday.

“Today @POTUS will sign the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, establishing June 19th as a federal holiday. As the 19th falls on a Saturday, most federal employees will observe the holiday tomorrow, June 18th,” the Office of Personnel Management tweeted on Thursday.

Biden is scheduled to sign legislation making Juneteenth a federal holiday on Thursday afternoon during an event with Vice President Harris in the East Room, during which they both will give remarks.

The House voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to pass the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act in a vote of 415-14. Those who voted against the legislation were all Republicans. The legislation passed the Senate by unanimous consent earlier this week.

Juneteenth is celebrated on June 19, the day in 1865 when the remaining enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, were informed of their freedom by the Emancipation Proclamation.

The vote to make Juneteenth a federal holiday — on par with Memorial Day, Veterans Day and other national holidays — punctuated a broader push for racial justice and equity in the United States following the police murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, in Minneapolis in May 2020.

“What I see here today is racial divide crumbling, being crushed this day under a momentous vote that brings together people who understand the value of freedom,” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), the sponsor of the bill, said at a press conference on Wednesday before the vote in the House.

Democrats and Republicans have disagreed over how to address racism in policing and other institutions. However, the push to make Juneteenth a federal holiday was bipartisan, with several Republicans in both the House and Senate cosponsoring the legislation. Sen. John Cornyn (Texas) was the lead Republican sponsor of the bill in the Senate.

“The freedom of all Americans that Texas celebrates every Juneteenth should be celebrated all across the nation,” Cornyn said in a statement on Tuesday. “The passage of this bill represents a big step in our nation’s journey toward equality.  I thank my colleagues in the Senate for their support, and my fellow Texans who have been celebrating this important holiday for more than a century.”

Some Republicans who objected to the bill said they were concerned that calling the holiday “Juneteenth National Independence Day” would cause it to be confused with Independence Day on July 4.

Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) criticized the bill as an “effort by the left to create a day out of whole cloth to celebrate identity politics as part of its larger efforts to make ‘critical race theory’ the reigning ideology of our country.”

Juneteenth will be the first federal holiday established by Congress since 1983 — nearly four decades ago — when lawmakers established Martin Luther King, Jr. Day to recognize the civil rights giant.

Most U.S. states already recognized Juneteenth before Wednesday’s vote. Hawaii became the 49th state to officially recognize it this week, leaving South Dakota as the only state that does not observe the day.