House Passes Bill To Make Juneteenth A Federal Holiday, But There’s Still Work To Be Done

Juneteenth BELatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of Axios.

The Democratic-majority U.S. House of Representatives voted Wednesday to make June 19, known as Juneteenth, a federal holiday to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States.

As reported by The New York Times, the House passed it by a vote of 415 to 14, opposed by 14 Republicans, and is on track to be signed by President Joe Biden.

Known by various names — Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, or the country’s second Independence Day — June 19 is one of the most important anniversaries in American history.

As NPR recalls, on June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger, who had fought for the Union, led a force of soldiers to Galveston, Texas, to deliver a very important message: the war was finally over, the Union had won, and now had the manpower to enforce the end of slavery. 

The announcement came two months after the actual conclusion of the Civil War and even longer since Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. However, many enslaved blacks in Texas were still not free, even after that day.

One hundred and fifty-six years later, the concept of freedom is still a matter of moral debate.

“Juneteenth celebrates African American freedom while encouraging self-development and respect for all cultures,” Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, Democrat of Texas and a lead sponsor of the legislation, said on the House floor, standing beside a poster of an enslaved man whose back showed the scars of whiplashes. “These are the brutal backs upon which the whip went over and over and over and over again.”

The metaphorical lashes, however, are still present.

As the House celebrates Juneteenth as a new federal holiday, states like Arizona are advancing bills to ban the discussion of race in schools.

As reported by The Associated Press last month, the Arizona House of Representatives has advanced a bill with a last-minute amendment that would ban racist, sexist, politicized, or other controversial topics in schools and penalize teachers with fines.

Charter schools and state agencies would be prohibited under the Impartial Teaching Act from discussing controversial topics in schools unless teachers give equal weight to divisive topics. Violations would result in fines of $5,000.

Similarly, and one hundred and fifty years after Henry McNeal Turner fought for African American voting rights in Georgia, Democratic State Senator David Lucas watched with tears in his eyes as history seems to have stood still in time.

Lucas objected last Feb. 23 to the new voter ID requirement for vote-by-mail ballots introduced by Republicans in Georgia — a gesture that echoes the words of Sen. Benjamin Hill five years after the end of the war: “The Southern whites will never consent to the government of the Negro,” he said. “Never!”

As Mother Jones explained, in 2005, Republicans had specifically exempted mail-in ballots from the state’s voter ID law, believing it would be the more rural and elderly voters who would cast them. But now, they were changing the rules after the proportion of black mail-in voters increased by 8 points in 2020, and the proportion of whites fell by 13 points. The measure was one of 50 anti-voting bills they had filed after the state turned blue in November and Donald Trump tried to overturn the election results by falsely claiming a massive conspiracy to rig the vote.

In the same retarded spirit, the U.S. Congress has failed to agree on an anti-lynching bill or the George Floyd Justice and Policing Act, so, for many, transforming Juneteenth into a Federal Holiday is, at best, an act of fruitless political proselytizing.

The real work has yet to be done.