The Senate voted unanimously Tuesday afternoon to approve a resolution making Juneteenth a federal holiday.
The same bill was presented to the Senate in 2020 but was blocked by Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson (R), who said that the extra federal holiday would cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. Johnson’s objection was backed by Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford (R) who said “we should celebrate these strides on the federal level while remaining cognizant of the impact the existing 10 federal holidays have on federal services and local businesses.”
In a press release Tuesday Sen. Johnson dropped his objection saying he would not oppose the unanimous decision consent motion brought forth by Democrats. “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, therefore I do not intend to object.”
Black Independence Day
June 19 is the day many Black people view as their true Independence Day.
On June 19, 1865 Major General Gordon Granger announced in Galveston, Texas the end of slavery in accordance with President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation. Because word did not travel as fast, many enslaved Black people were not aware of their freedom at the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Yet, even this history, lesser known among other commemorations that have been made into national holidays, often fails to include the fact that Black Freedmen of Indian Territory didn’t taste freedom on their lips until a year later.
Black Freedmen of Indian Territory
Unlike the vast majority of Indigenous tribes in North America, the Choctaw, Creek, Cherokee, Chickasaw, and Seminole Tribes, known as the 5 Civilized Tribes due to accepting European standards, enslaved Africans in Indian Territory before it became Oklahoma. Factions within The Five Tribes participated on both sides of the Civil War, when Southern states led an armed rebellion against the U.S. government.
Consequently, the Treaty of 1866, as a condition of surrender, required the Tribes to adopt their formerly enslaved members with full citizenship rights and land allotments, making Black Freedmen in Indian Territory the truly last to be free of bondage.
Texas Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Ed Markey, and Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn are among the members of Congress who led the effort to make Juneteenth a federal holiday.
The bill passed the House on Wednesday and is expected to be signed into law by President Joe Biden in the coming days.