US Senate votes to make Juneteenth a holiday
Democratic and Republican senators hail the rare bipartisan measure in the evenly split chamber. Juneteenth marks the day on 19 June 1865 when enslaved black people in Texas learned they had been freed.Charles Schumer, the Democratic leader of the Senate, said: "Making Juneteenth a federal holiday is a major step forward to recognise the wrongs of the past, but we must continue to work to ensure equal justice and fulfil the promise of the Emancipation Proclamation and our Constitution.
Public schools in Washington were closed, embassies shut down and US government employees got an unexpected day off on Friday after the sudden declaration of a federal holiday to commemorate Juneteenth, which marks the end of slavery in the United States. © Francois PICARD A mural in Galveston, Texas called "Absolute Equality" commemorates the Juneteenth holiday © Jim WATSON Vice President Kamala Harris speaks as President Joe Biden applauds during an event to mark the passage of the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act
The unusual swiftness with which the newest US federal holiday was approved by Congress and signed into law by the White House left some Americans in a bit of confusion about what exactly was open and what was not on Friday.
The holiday’s 156-year history holds a lot of meaning in the fight for black liberation today.A portmanteau of “June” and “nineteenth,” Juneteenth marks the day in 1865 when a group of enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, finally learned that they were free from the institution of slavery. But, woefully, this was almost two-and-a-half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. As much as Juneteenth represents freedom, it also represents how emancipation was tragically delayed for enslaved people in the deepest reaches of the Confederacy.
© JIM WATSON Opal Lee (C), the activist known as the grandmother of Juneteenth, speaks with US President Joe Biden after he signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act
Some parents who did have to turn up at their jobs were left scrambling to find last-minute child care options.
"Dear Families. We will be closed in observance of the Federal holiday, Juneteenth, tomorrow!" was the email message from a Maryland day care center sent on Thursday just minutes before midnight. "Have a great weekend!"
To its credit, parents who went to pick up their children at the facility on Thursday afternoon were told verbally that it would be closed the next day.
President Joe Biden signed a bill on Thursday making June 19 the 12th federal holiday and the first new one since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was signed into law by president Ronald Reagan in 1983 to mark the birthday of the slain civil rights leader.
Juneteenth: What is the newest US holiday?
The commemoration of the last enslaved black American being freed is now an official US holiday."I've only been president for several months, but I think this will go down, for me, as one of the greatest honours I will have had as president," Mr Biden said at the signing event.
© Brendan Smialowski The US Congress moved with unusual rapidity to declare Juneteenth a federal holiday
Juneteenth commemorates the day -- June 19, 1865 -- when a Union general arrived in Galveston, Texas, and informed slaves they were free -- two months after the Civil War had ended and 2.5 years after president Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
Juneteenth has long been marked by generally low-key celebrations among Black communities around the country.
It gained a higher profile last year amid a national soul-searching over America's legacy of racial injustice sparked by the killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man, by a white police officer in Minnesota.
- Swift passage by Congress -
Several major US companies announced last year that were making Juneteenth a paid holiday and the US Congress -- not known for moving with alacrity -- overcame its bitterly partisan divisions and followed suit this month.
What the Push to Celebrate Juneteenth Conceals
The recent effort to make the anniversary a federal holiday is undermined by the simultaneous attack on critical race theory and curricula focused on the enduring legacy of slavery.This spring, I have been perplexed by anniversaries meant to honor history. Memorial Day, a holiday created by Black people to honor Black veterans in Charleston, South Carolina, seemed this year to focus more on remembering George Floyd and commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa massacre. This Juneteenth also feels different, as more non-Black Americans are now incorporating it into their summer celebrations and lawmakers have pushed to observe the holiday at a federal level.
The Senate agreed to make Juneteenth a federal holiday by unanimous consent on Tuesday and the House of Representatives approved the measure overwhelmingly on Wednesday.
It was on Biden's desk by Thursday and the president announced that it was a federal holiday with immediate effect.
"This is a day of profound weight and profound power, and to remember the moral stain and the terrible toll that slavery took on the country, and continues to take," Biden said at a White House signing ceremony.
Because of the short notice, Wall Street remained open for trading on Friday but the New York Stock Exchange confirmed to AFP that it was considering shutting down for Juneteenth next year.
The impact of the new holiday was apparent in the nation's capital.
Streets which had been inching back to normal after a year of coronavirus pandemic isolation were again largely void of commuters Friday morning.
Washington public schools were closed, non-essential federal government offices were shut, a Covid-19 meeting of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) was put off until next week and courts postponed cases which had been scheduled to be heard on Friday.
US embassies around the world informed visa seekers and others that they would be shut on Friday and consular officials would get in touch next week to reschedule appointments.
"What is open and closed on Juneteenth?" was a headline in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper accompanying a story explaining what was open for business on Friday.
The story reflected, however, some of the uncertainty about the new holiday.
"State offices and schools may be open, but most close," it said.
Juneteenth violence: At least 8 killed, dozens injured during Saturday shootings .
At least eight people were fatally shot and dozens were injured during parties or gatherings on or related to the Juneteenth holiday injured in seven parts of the country, according to officials and local reports. Shootings on Saturday – a newly declared federal holiday honoring Juneteenth – were reported during events in Colorado, California, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Indiana and South Carolina, among others, with at least 33 wounded, according to authorities and multiple reports.