Philadelphians react after Congress approves bill to make Juneteenth a federal holiday

Thursday, June 17, 2021
Congress approves bill to make Juneteenth a federal holiday
The House voted 415-14 Wednesday to make Juneteenth, or June 19th, the 12th federal holiday. The bill now goes to President Joe Biden's desk, and he is expected to sign it into law.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- The United States will soon have a new federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery.

The House voted 415-14 Wednesday to make Juneteenth, or June 19th, the 12th federal holiday. The bill now goes to President Joe Biden's desk, and he is expected to sign it into law on Thursday afternoon.

"I feel like it's a great step in the right direction, so I'm really happy they have decided to make it a national holiday," said Makeeda McGill of West Philadelphia.

"I think it's great. I think it's definitely a day that we need to recognize and it's a big win for our country," added Bhumi Patel of South Philadelphia.

Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers brought the news of freedom to enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas - two months after the Confederacy had surrendered. That was also about 2 1/2 years after the Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in the Southern states.

SEE ALSO: Congress approves bill to make Juneteenth a federal holiday; Biden expected to sign

It's the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was created in 1983.

"Galveston in Texas is located in such a remote situation that Union troops could not get there immediately," said Richard Watson, the exhibit manager at the African American Museum in Philadelphia.

"It's a cultural observance of the African American community and it has been gaining momentum in the last 15-20 years. And now it's come to a culminating point where across the nation people are recognizing June 19th as official Juneteenth Day" said Watson.

"It's a day of reflection as well as an acknowledgment that, going forward, we still have work to do," said Dr. Eve Higginbotham, the Vice Dean of Inclusion and Diversity at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

She has used her voice and platform to speak out to effect change.

"We have a lot of work to do; we still need people engaged, but we need people to translate their reflections into action," said Dr. Higginbotham.

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and had 60 co-sponsors. Democratic leaders moved quickly to bring the bill to the House floor after the Senate's vote the day before.

Some Republican lawmakers opposed the effort. Rep. Matt Rosendale, R-Mont., said creating the federal holiday was an effort to celebrate "identity politics."

"Since I believe in treating everyone equally, regardless of race, and that we should be focused on what unites us rather than our differences, I will vote no," he said in a press release.

The vast majority of states recognize Juneteenth as a holiday or have an official observance of the day, and most states hold celebrations. Juneteenth is a paid holiday for state employees in Texas, New York, Virginia and Washington.

Under the legislation, the federal holiday would be known as Juneteenth National Independence Day.

Rep. Clay Higgins, R-La., said that he would vote for the bill and that he supported the establishment of a federal holiday, but he was upset that the name of the holiday included the word "independence" rather than "emancipation."

"Why would the Democrats want to politicize this by coopting the name of our sacred holiday of Independence Day?" Higgins asked.

Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Mich., replied, "I want to say to my white colleagues on the other side: Getting your independence from being enslaved in a country is different from a country getting independence to rule themselves."

She added, "We have a responsibility to teach every generation of Black and white Americans the pride of a people who have survived, endured and succeeded in these United States of America despite slavery."

The 14 House Republicans who voted against the bill were Andy Biggs of Arizona, Mo Brooks of Alabama, Andrew Clyde of Georgia, Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee, Paul Gosar of Arizona, Ronny Jackson of Texas, Doug LaMalfa of California, Thomas Massie of Kentucky, Tom McClintock of California, Ralph Norman of South Carolina, Mike Rogers of Alabama, Rosendale of Montana, Chip Roy of Texas and Tom Tiffany of Wisconsin.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.