July 2, 2020

Reed & Whitehouse Cosponsor Bill to Make Juneteenth a Federal Holiday

Senators back effort to designate June 19 a national holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) cosponsored the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act.  This legislation would designate Juneteenth as a permanent  holiday to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States.  The bill would also establish a Juneteenth Federal Holiday Commission to encourage ceremonies and activities in celebration of the holiday throughout the nation.

Juneteenth commemorates the arrival of the news of emancipation and the freedom of slaves in all former Confederate states following the conclusion of the Civil War.  The holiday is called “Juneteenth” because it marks June 19, 1865 — the day Union soldiers arrived in Galvaston, Texas to serve notice of the Emancipation Proclamation and announce the freedom of America’s last remaining slaves. 

“June 19, 1865 is a day of historical significance that deserves national recognition.  Designating Juneteenth a federal holiday to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States will help make it a national day of pride, celebration, reflection, action, and unity,” said Senator Reed.  “Every 4th of July we celebrate our nation’s independence and every June 19th we commemorate our enduring struggle for freedom and equality.  I am proud to join the push to make Juneteenth a national holiday and continue addressing persistent and pressing issues of racial inequality.”

“Now is a very appropriate time to celebrate the progress we have made, emerging out of our nation’s dark history of slavery and oppression to create a more just and equitable future, a more perfect union,” said Senator Whitehouse.  “Juneteenth is a proud and touching marker of the progress we’ve made, and also a reminder of the serious work we still have ahead of us.  I’m proud to join the call to recognize Juneteenth as a federal holiday.”

President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, but at the time, the document only freed slaves in Confederate-controlled areas.  The Emancipation Proclamation did not reach every community in the U.S. until June 19, 1865 — two months after the Confederacy’s surrender to the Union in the Civil War – and over two years after it was signed.

In 1980, Texas became the first state to recognize Juneteenth as a paid holiday.  In Rhode Island, Juneteenth has been officially recognized as a state holiday since 2012.  Nationwide, 47 states  recognize Juneteenth as an annual state holiday or observance.

The Juneteenth National Independence Day Act currently has over 50 cosponsors.  

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