In a resounding bipartisan vote, the House of Representatives passed a bill Wednesday making Juneteenth, the day commemorating the official end of slavery in the United States, a federal holiday.
The final vote on the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act was 415-14, and the bill now heads to President Biden’s desk for signature into law.
“We cannot change the future if we do not recognize the past,” Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus said on the House Floor ahead of the vote.
Some Republicans objected to the title of the bill, saying that it was improper given the July 4 holiday commemorating the passage of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 by the Continental Congress.
“I don’t believe the title ‘National Independence Day’ works,” Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, said when the House debated the measure, citing that reason for his vote.
Rep. Matt Rosedale, R-Mont., also voted against passage of the bill.
“Let’s call an ace and ace,” Rosedale said in a statement. “This is an effort by the Left to create a day out of whole cloth to celebrate identity politics as part of its large effort to make Critical Race Theory the reigning ideology of our country.”
Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., said passage of the holiday was “long overdue.”
“This comes at an important time, Madam Chair. Across the country we are seeing efforts to eliminate the teaching of our country’s history, like the injustices of slavery, from being taught in our own schools,” Tlaib said in reference to objections to teaching critical race theory. “This national holiday will serve a powerful reminder that we cannot run from our past.”
Juneteenth, which is celebrated on June 19, has been marked by Black Americans for decades, long before critical race theory emerged in educational circles. It recognizes the emancipation of formerly enslaved African Americans, commemorating the date in 1865 when slaves in Galveston, Texas, learned of their freedom. The majority of states, including Texas, have already passed legislation recognizing it as a state holiday.
On Tuesday, the Senate passed the bill by unanimous consent after Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., dropped his objections to the legislation.
“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,” Johnson said.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., quickly made clear that he would bring the bill to the House floor for a vote on Wednesday.
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