Calls to Make Juneteenth a Federal Holiday Get Louder

By Shani Saxon Jun 19, 2020

As the national dialogue about systemic racism continues, advocates are more hopeful than ever that the Juneteenth holiday is closer to getting the national recognition it has long deserved, Time reports. “There needs to be a reckoning, an effort to unify,” Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee told Time. "One thing about national holidays, they help educate people about what the story is.”

Juneteenth (June 19), refers to the day in 1865—two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed—when enslaved people in Texas finally received word about the official end of the Civil War, marking their freedom from bondage. Today, as protestors around the world continue to ring the alarm about police brutality and racial oppression, advocates of Juneteenth are reminding others to acknowledge slavery’s heavy impact on our present. 

Every year, Rep. Jackson Lee “introduces a resolution to recognize the historical significance of Juneteenth,” Time reports. This year’s proposal, introduced on June 15, has over 200 co-sponsors, which has encouraged her to also introduce a bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday. 

Jackson Lee, who is African American, acknowledged that it can take a long time for a federal holiday to become a reality, citing the 20 years it took for Dr. Martin Luther King Day to become official. However, she believes now there is enough momentum and support to begin the process. “Juneteenth legislation is a call for freedom, but it also reinforces the history of African Americans,” Jackson Lee told Time.

“We’ve fought for this country. We’ve made great strides, but we’re still the victims of sharp disparities. Our neighborhoods reflect that. We’ve been denied the same opportunities for housing, access to healthcare, and, in 2020, [during] COVID-19, all of the glaring disparities are shown. Because of that, I think this is a time that we may find people who are desirous to understand the history not necessarily only of African Americans, but the history of America.”

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced this year that their states will recognize Juneteenth as a paid holiday for state employees. And companies including Nike, Twitter, The New York Times, Lyft, Target and many others have also jumped on board and will recognize Juneteenth as a paid holiday off. 

As Color of Change said in a statement last year: 

Juneteenth is a time to celebrate how far we’ve come while assessing how far we still have to go. June 19, 1865, changed the life trajectories of enslaved Black people across the country. On that day, news that the Civil War had ended and that the enslaved were now free finally reached Galveston, Texas. This opened up a world of opportunities denied to generations of Black people—the people who were forced to build this country, fought for centuries to end legalized slavery and paved the way for us with their blood, sweat and tears. We owe it to them to keep up the fight until we are all fully free.