The Senate approved legislation Tuesday to make Juneteenth, or June 19, a federal holiday commemorating the abolition of slavery in the United States.
The bill was passed by the Senate in a unanimous consent agreement, which speeds up the legislative process. It must now pass the House and be signed by President Joe Biden to become law. With Democratic control of the House, the bill should pass easily and also get Biden’s support.
“Making Juneteenth a federal holiday is a major step forward to recognize the wrongs of the past, but we must continue to work to ensure equal justice,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
The legislation gained traction following the nationwide Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd last year, in addition to Democrats’ taking over the White House and Congress.
The bill was sponsored by Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and had 60 co-sponsors.
Under the new legislation, the federal holiday would be known as Juneteenth National Independence Day. The new holiday gives federal employees an additional day off, at a cost to taxpayers of $600 million per year. State, city and private employers are not required to honor the holiday by giving their employees the day off with pay.
Juneteenth commemorates the day when the last enslaved African Americans achieved freedom. Confederate soldiers surrendered in April 1865, but the news of freedom did not reach the last enslaved Black people until June 19, when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas.