Biden Will Make Juneteenth a Federal Holiday; Here's What That Means

President Joe Biden is expected to sign into law Thursday afternoon legislation that will establish June 19 as the Juneteenth National Independence Day, commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.

The Juneteenth resolution received a rather rare, quick bipartisan passage in a divided Congress this week, with the Senate voting unanimously in favor of the legislation and just 14 members voting against it in the House.

It will be the 11th federal holiday—joining the ranks of President's Day and Memorial Day. It's the first new one created since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was established in 1983.

What is Juneteenth?

Juneteenth, considered the "longest-running African-American holiday," recognizes June 19, 1865, as the date that news of slavery's end reached slaves in Texas and other states in the southwest—formalizing their emancipation after the end of the Civil War a month earlier.

The celebration of Juneteenth began largely with church celebrations in 1866 but grew to be widespread in the Black community, particularly in the South. It was rarely recognized among the population at large until recent years.

Local celebrations typically include a reading of the Emancipation Proclamation, traditional African-American songs and other discussions on Black history in the United States.

What does the law say?

Senate Resolution 475, sponsored by Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Ed Markey and more than five dozen others, establishes June 19—to be known as Juneteenth National Independence Day—as a legal public holiday after Memorial Day.

On that day, federal government employees will get a paid day off, non-essential federal government offices will be closed and stock market trading could be suspended.

It only applies to the federal government, so states could opt to not observe, but typically businesses acknowledge federal holidays and give workers the day off if possible.

What was the opposition?

The legislation making Juneteenth a national holiday passed the U.S. Senate with unanimous, bipartisan support, but 14 House Republicans voted against the bill.

U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, a Texas Republican, said in a statement after his vote that he supports commemorating Juneteenth "as the expression of the realization of the end of slavery in the United States."

"I could not vote for this bill, however, because the holiday should not be called 'Juneteenth National Independence Day' but rather, 'Juneteenth National Emancipation [or Freedom or otherwise] Day,'" he said. "This name needlessly divides our nation on a matter that should instead bring us together by creating a separate Independence Day based on the color of one's skin."

Other members who voted against the bill:

  • U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona
  • U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama
  • U.S. Rep. Andrew Clyde of Georgia
  • U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee
  • U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona
  • U.S. Rep. Ronny Jackson of Texas
  • U.S. Rep. Doug LaMalfa of Califoirnia
  • U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky
  • U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock of California
  • U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman of South Carolina
  • U.S. Rep. Michael Rogers of Alabama
  • U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale of Montana
  • U.S. Rep. Tom Tiffany of Wisconsin

What has Biden said?

Biden, who has been supportive of the resolution, and Vice President Kamala Harris, the first Black vice president, are expected to deliver formal remarks at the bill signing, scheduled for 3:30 p.m. (ET).

The event will be streamed live on the White House website.

Juneteenth becomes a federal holiday
People march to the Georgia State Capitol during a Juneteenth event organized by the One Race Movement on June 19, 2020, in Atlanta. Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when a Union general read orders in Galveston, Texas stating all enslaved people in Texas were free according to federal law. Joe Raedle/Getty Images