In 2021, US President Joe Biden signed a law to commemorate June 19 or Juneteenth as a federal holiday to commemorate the end of slavery after the American civil war (1861-65). But so far, only 18 US states have passed laws to make funds available to make it a paid state holiday.
Those opposing such a bill in states have been citing the cost involved in giving workers another day off as an argument against it.
While over 30 states in the US continue to hold out against following suit, Juneteenth completes a year as the first new federal holiday created in almost four decades.
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What is Juneteenth?
Juneteenth– the portmanteau of June and nineteenth– is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the US, observed on June 19 every year. It is also known as Emancipation Day or Juneteenth Independence Day.
On January 1, 1863, then-president Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared that “all persons held as slaves” within the states in rebellion “are, and henceforward shall be free.”
Even so, more than two years after Lincoln’s proclamation, many slave owners continued to hold their slaves captive by hiding this information from them and keeping them for one more harvest season, as per the Congressional Research Service (CRS).
On June 19, 1865, two months after the Civil War had ended, Major General Gordon Granger, from the victorious Union side, arrived in Galveston, Texas, and issued an order to free the last enslaved people on US soil.
What is its significance?
Since Granger’s announcement, Juneteenth has become a largely symbolic date representing freedom for African Americans.
As per CRS, Granger’s announcement read the following, “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property, between former masters and slaves and the connection heretofore existing between them, becomes that between employer and hired labor. The Freedmen are advised to remain at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts; and they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”
In the state of Texas, the first Juneteenth celebration started from 1866, with community-centric events such as parades, cookouts, prayer gatherings, historical and cultural readings and musical performances. The day has evolved over the years, with people and communities developing their own traditions and customs. For instance, some communities purchased land for celebrating the day, such as Emancipation Park in Houston, Texas.
As per the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation (NJOF), the era of the “Modern Juneteenth Movement” began in 1994 when a group of Juneteenth leaders from across the country gathered in New Orleans, Louisiana, to work towards the greater recognition of Juneteenth.
What happened after Biden signed the federal law?
All 50 US states have proclamations in place to recognize and celebrate Juneteenth. But it is not a universal American holiday just yet. Texas was the first state to make it a paid holiday in 1980. Eight other states had done the same even before Biden signed the federal law in 2021. In 2022, nine more states joined the list making a total 18 US states that now give a paid holiday on the day to all state employees. But the opponents of the bill in states, according to a New York Times report, have cited the cost associated with making it a paid holiday as one of the reasons, apart from saying that not many people know about the day to make it a holiday .