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Congress passes bill to make Juneteenth a federal holiday

The legislation will now go to President Biden’s desk to be signed into law.

Juneteenth march Getty

The House of Representatives voted on Wednesday (June 16) to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. The legislation was approved by a 415-14 vote and will now go to President Joe Biden’s desk, where it’s expected to be signed into law this afternoon.

Wednesday's vote marks the first time that Congress has approved a federal holiday since establishing Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983. Biden is set to sign the bill today (June 17) at 3:30 pm EST, just in time for the holiday to be federally observed this Saturday (June 19).

Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, who strongly supported the bill, reacted to the vote on Twitter.

“Juneteenth is the living symbol of Lincoln’s promise that this nation, under God, “would have a new birth of freedom,’” she said in a statement. “When the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act is signed into law by President Biden, the federal government will join 47 states in recognizing as a holiday Juneteenth, the day that has been celebrated by African Americans for 156 years and has been called rightly as ‘America’s second Independence Day.’”

Saturday will mark the 156th anniversary of Juneteenth, which celebrates the freeing of African American slaves in Texas after the Civil War. Also known as Freedom Day, Liberation Day and Emancipation Day; the holiday commemorates when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865 to ensure that all slaves were freed in the state.

Although President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation two years prior, it wasn’t until Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s surrender that the remaining 250,000 enslaved people in Galveston were freed. In December 1865, the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified and officially abolished slavery.

Vice President Kamala Harris, one of the lawmakers who first introduced the legislation in the Senate, is also expected to be present at today’s bill signing.

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