The U.S Congress voted 415-14 on Wednesday to make June 19, “Juneteenth,” the 11th Federal Holiday. This is the first time Congress has done so since “Martin Luther King Jr. Day” became a holiday in 1983.
Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, the day when Union soldiers brought the news of freedom to enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas — two months after the Confederacy had surrendered, and 2 and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation.
“Our federal holidays are purposely few in number and recognize the most important milestones,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y. “I cannot think of a more important milestone to commemorate than the end of slavery in the United States.”
Although the Senate voted unanimously in favor of the holiday, 14 Republican House Members voted against the bill, stating concerns over the name of the holiday.
According to NPR, those 14 House members are Alabama Reps. Mo Brooks and Mike Rogers, Arizona Reps. Andy Biggs and Paul Gosar, California Reps. Tom McClintock and Doug LaMalfa, Georgia Rep. Andrew Clyde, Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie, Montana Rep. Matt Rosendale, South Carolina Rep. Ralph Norman, Tennessee Rep. Scott DesJarlais, Texas Reps. Ronny Jackson and Chip Roy, and Wisconsin Rep. Tom Tiffany.
Massie spoke about his concerns on the House Floor on Wednesday.
“I fully support creating a day to celebrate the abolition of slavery, a dark portion of our nation’s history,” he stated. “However, naming this day ‘National Independence Day’ will create confusion and push Americans to pick one of those two days as their independence day based on their racial identity.”
He also added, “Why can’t we name this Emancipation Day, and come together as Americans, and celebrate that day together as Americans: black and white, all colors, all races, all ethnicities, and then come together on Independence Day, which celebrates the creation of our country throwing off an oppressive government.”
Congresswoman, Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Mich., reacted to that argument on the floor, saying, “I want to say to my white colleagues on the other side — Getting your independence from being enslaved in a country is different from a country getting independence to rule themselves.”
President Joe Biden signed the bill Thursday afternoon, and The Office of Personnel Management confirmed that most federal employees will get the day off on Friday to observe the new Juneteenth Federal Holiday.
Companies like Adobe, Best Buy, Ford Motor are a few corporations that have decided to give employers Juneteenth as a paid day off from work.
“Juneteenth is a day that commemorates the effective end of slavery in the United States. This year, on June 19th, we are giving all Adobe employees the day off to focus on reflection and advocacy,” Adobe said in a blog post.
In a press release, Best Buy wrote, “We have made the decision to give all employees a paid volunteer day that can be used this Friday or any day this year for any of these purposes.”
Ford Motor is also encouraging plant employees in the U.S. and Europe, as well as salaried employees, to participate in moments of silence on Friday.
“We do this in support of the millions who are demanding real reform. We do this to recognize that we all have a role to play in this change,” John Savona, Ford’s head of North America manufacturing, said in a joint letter with Gerald Kariem, a vice president of the United Auto Workers union.