Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day, Liberation Day and Emancipation Day, marks the day when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, to ensure that African Americans still enslaved were freed following both the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation and end of the Civil War. A few months later, in December of 1865, the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified and abolished slavery.
The legislation was passed Wednesday night by a vote of 415-14 in the House. The House vote came after a surprise move on Tuesday, where the Senate passed by unanimous consent, when a single Republican senator dropped his opposition. It next will head to President Joe Biden’s desk for a signature.
The legislation passed just in time for the holiday on Saturday, but it is unclear if Biden will sign before Saturday’s anniversary, although he is scheduled back from his first foreign trip as president late Wednesday.
Biden is expected to sign it, and will likely be accompanied by Vice President Kamala Harris, who was one of the Democrats to introduce the legislation in the Senate last year alongside Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), a lead co-sponsor of the Senate bill.
When Biden signs Juneteenth into law, it will become a federal holiday, the first time in nearly 40 years Congress has moved to establish a new national holiday. The most recent since Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in 1983 was passed. Saturday June 19, will be the 156th anniversary of the day that marks the last African American slaves being freed in Texas in the wake of the Civil War.
It was in 1979 that Texas became the first state to officially establish Juneteenth as an official holiday. Now, 49 states and the district separately recognize the day, with South Dakota as the only outlier, despite legislative attempts earlier this year.
Companies including Nike, Twitter, Google and General Motors have also signed on to make Juneteenth a paid company holiday, with several companies adopting the policy last year.