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Bill to make Juneteenth a federal holiday heads to Biden’s desk

Congress passed the bill days before the 156th anniversary of Juneteenth
Updated: Jun. 16, 2021 at 6:40 PM CDT
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MADISON, WI (WMTV/AP) - Juneteenth is another step closer to becoming a federal holiday.

Saturday marks the 156th anniversary of Juneteenth, or June 19th. The day commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S. While recognized in a several states, it’s never been declared an official federal holiday.

“There’s no better time than the present...to acknowledge our nation’s history and to learn from it,” said John Cornyn, Republican Senator from Texas and co-sponsor of the bill.

Juneteenth became a state recognized holiday here in Wisconsin back in 2009 but more than a decade later some say the significance of the day and what it means for American history is not highlighted enough.

“I think it’s important for people who are not Black to take the time to educate themselves on the history of Juneteenth and what it meant for Black people in the south to be freed on June 19,” said Aja Shumate, Marketing Coordinator for Urban Triage.

Urban Triage is one of many community groups hosting Juneteenth celebrations in Madison this week while bringing attention to its significance.

“I still feel like there’s a lot of things Black people face and things we’re still going through that aren’t being seen,” said Ciara H.

Community leaders say when Juneteenth becomes a federal holiday, it shouldn’t be viewed as just another day off. “Support Black-owned businesses and educate yourself,” said Shumate.

The House voted 415-14 to make Juneteenth the 12th federal holiday. Tom Tiffany of Wisconsin was among the 14 Republicans to vote against the bill.

This comes after it was previously blocked in the Senate by Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson, citing concerns over the cost and lack of debate. Johnson later dropped his opposition and the Senate unanimously passed the bill Tuesday before it went to the House.

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.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.