NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Wednesday, June 16th, 2021

Bill to make Juneteenth a federal holiday clears Congress; Biden to sign it tomorrow

Well, that was fast!

Leg­is­la­tion that would make June­teenth a fed­er­al hol­i­day has cleared the Unit­ed States Con­gress by an extreme­ly lop­sided mar­gin, with only a few extrem­ist, most­ly white suprema­cist House Repub­li­cans in opposition.

By a vote of four hun­dred and four­teen to four­teen, the House signed off on S. 475, which the Sen­ate passed by unan­i­mous con­sent less than thir­ty hours ago after the odi­ous Ron John­son of Wis­con­sin dropped his objection.

The roll call from the Pacif­ic North­west was unanimous:

Vot­ing Aye: Demo­c­ra­t­ic Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Suzan Del­Bene, Rick Larsen, Derek Kilmer, Prami­la Jaya­pal, Kim Schri­er, Mar­i­lyn Strick­land (WA), Suzanne Bonam­i­ci, Earl Blu­me­nauer, Peter DeFazio, and Kurt Schrad­er (OR); Repub­li­can Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Jaime Her­rera Beut­ler, Dan New­house, Cathy McMor­ris Rodgers (WA), Cliff Bentz (OR), Russ Fulcher and Mike Simp­son (ID), Don Young (AK), Matt Rosendale (MT)

S. 475 now heads to Pres­i­dent Joe Biden’s desk. Biden, who has just returned from his first trip over­seas as Pres­i­dent, will be sign­ing it tomor­row at 12:30 PM Pacif­ic in an East Room cer­e­mo­ny with Vice Pres­i­dent Kamala Har­ris, the White House announced in a sched­ul­ing note ear­li­er this evening.

Biden and Har­ris will both offer remarks.

“With this step, Con­gress is ensur­ing that one of the most momen­tous events in our his­to­ry, which has been cel­e­brat­ed by mil­lions, par­tic­u­lar­ly Black Amer­i­cans, for 150 years now is offi­cial­ly rec­og­nized, that it is enshrined in our his­to­ry books and it takes its place of hon­or in our nation,” said Speak­er Nan­cy Pelosi.

“June­teenth is a beau­ti­ful and proud cel­e­bra­tion of free­dom for Black Amer­i­cans. It marks the day, two years after Pres­i­dent Lin­coln issued the Eman­ci­pa­tion Procla­ma­tion, when Major Gen­er­al Gor­don Granger and Union sol­diers deliv­ered the news of lib­er­a­tion in Galve­ston, Texas.”

“Over the past cen­tu­ry and half, June­teenth has evolved into a day of not only cel­e­bra­tion, but of reflec­tion. This day reminds us of a his­to­ry much stained by bru­tal­i­ty and injus­tice and reminds us of our respon­si­bil­i­ty to build a future of progress for all, hon­or­ing the ide­al of equal­i­ty that is Amer­i­ca’s her­itage and Amer­i­ca’s hope,” the Speak­er added, hail­ing the per­sis­tent efforts of the Con­gres­sion­al Black Cau­cus to make the occa­sion a fed­er­al holiday.

“I applaud my House col­leagues for the swift pas­sage of the June­teenth Nation­al Inde­pen­dence Day Act, com­pan­ion leg­is­la­tion to H.R. 1320, which I intro­duced to make June­teenth a fed­er­al hol­i­day to com­mem­o­rate the end of chat­tel slav­ery, Amer­i­ca’s Orig­i­nal Sin, and to cel­e­brate he per­se­ver­ance that has been the hall­mark of the African Amer­i­can strug­gle for equal­i­ty,” said Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Sheila Jack­son Lee (D‑Texas), who presided over the House vote on S. 475.

Most states already rec­og­nize June­teenth as a hol­i­day. Wash­ing­ton has done so since 2007, although June­teenth only became a paid hol­i­day for state work­ers very recent­ly with the enact­ment of House Bill 1016 last month.

June­teenth cel­e­bra­tions in the Pacif­ic North­west date back much fur­ther than that. The June­teenth arti­cle on Wikipedia notably con­tains a copy of a fly­er for a June­teenth cel­e­bra­tion at Seat­tle Cen­ter dat­ing back to 1980.

Hawaii, North Dako­ta and South Dako­ta are the only states that don’t rec­og­nize June­teenth, accord­ing to a fact sheet from the Con­gres­sion­al Research Service.

As Speak­er Pelosi men­tioned in her above­quot­ed floor remarks, this rich­ly his­toric and joy­ous hol­i­day orig­i­nat­ed in Texas, where enslaved Black peo­ple received the news that slav­ery had been abol­ished from Union troops led by Major Gen­er­al Gor­don Granger. Slav­ery had been abol­ished months pri­or in the coun­try’s rebelling states by order of Pres­i­dent Lin­coln, but Lin­col­n’s order did­n’t become effec­tive across the South until Union troops arrived to enforce it.

“A grass­roots cel­e­bra­tion high­light­ed by joy­ous singing, pig roasts, and rodeos, June­teenth took root in many African-Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ties dur­ing the late 19th cen­tu­ry. But June­teenth was nev­er accord­ed offi­cial respect or recog­ni­tion,” a Smith­son­ian Mag­a­zine arti­cle from a decade ago explained.

That, of course, is about to change, with the sign­ing of S. 475. Once this bill becomes a law, no longer will June­teenth be rec­og­nized only at the state level.

With fed­er­al recog­ni­tion, we can expect a lot more media cov­er­age and obser­vances of June­teenth going for­ward. Hope­ful­ly, that leads to a greater under­stand­ing and aware­ness among all Amer­i­cans of this coun­try’s racist past and the cru­cial­ly impor­tant antiracist move­ments that have been seek­ing to lib­er­ate all oppressed peo­ples from the scourges of big­otry and injustice.

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