WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States will soon have a new federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the nation.
The House passed a bill Wednesday that would make Juneteenth, or June 19, a federal holiday. The House voted 415-14 to make Juneteenth the 12th federal holiday.
Juneteenth commemorates when the last enslaved African Americans learned they were free. Confederate soldiers surrendered in April 1865, but word didn’t reach the last enslaved Black people until June 19, when Union soldiers brought the news of freedom to Galveston, Texas.
The bill now goes to President Joe Biden's desk for his signature.
It has been a state holiday in Texas for 40 years, and at this time 49 states and the District of Columbia recognize it in some way on the state level.
The measure was introduced last summer, but Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson's vocal objections about the cost to taxpayers to pay federal workers for the day off stopped it from passing by unanimous consent. Last year, Johnson and others tried to negotiate swapping Juneteenth for Columbus Day so there would not be another federal holiday added. Those efforts did not go far.
This year, the bill gained more Republican support and Johnson dropped his objections.
“While it still seems strange that having taxpayers provide federal employees paid time off is now required to celebrate the end of slavery, it is clear that there is no appetite in Congress to further discuss the matter,” the Republican senator said in a statement Tuesday morning. “Therefore, I do not intend to object.”
Once Johnson dropped his objections, the measure passed unanimously in the Senate, sending it to the House for passage Wednesday.
By making it a federal holiday, the bill only guarantees federal workers will get Juneteenth off, there is no requirement that private businesses give employees the day off.