Juneteenth Approved as a Federal Holiday by President Biden

Juneteenth Approved as a Federal Holiday by President Biden

Caroline Owen

A historic moment in American history, yesterday was the first nationwide celebration of “Juneteenth.” June 19th was made an official Federal Holiday by US president Biden on June 17th, 2021, the first to be approved since MLK day in 1983. The day commemorates June 19th, 1865, the official end of Slavery in the United States, and is recognized as “Emancipation Day” by African-Americans.


While the Emancipation Proclamation outlawed African slavery in parts of the US in 1863, and the 13th amendment fully outlawed it in 1865, certain parts of the South still permitted the enslavements of Africans. Texas was the last state to phase out the use of slavery, as its state government permitted it. This ended on June 19th, 1865, when US Army General Gordon Granger rode into Texas and forcefully liberated the remaining American slaves, proclaiming and upholding their legal freedom. 


Around the world, Caribbean and African countries celebrate Emancipation Day on various dates to commemorate the day their peoples were freed from slavery. In the United States, Juneteenth has represented a celebration of not only the freedom of African slaves, but also of Black cultural identity and tradition. Since 1866, the first year it was celebrated by African-Americans, June 19th has been celebrated with the cuisine, customs, songs, and stories of Black people in order to keep the historical memory of former slaves and their descendants alive.


Biden’s choice to make Juneteenth a Federal Holiday is symbolic of the United States’ continuing efforts to atone for its past inhumane treatment of Africans. This decision also comes after a wave of protests and social uproar due to the killing of George Floyd in May 2020 and the rise in popularity of the associated Black Lives Matter movement. Furthermore, as an effort to mitigate some of the inequities African-Americans face today, particularly in housing, education, and incarceration, there is an ongoing discussion within the Federal Government over whether reparations should be paid to the descendants of former slaves. 


Juneteenth is not widely discussed in American schools, but perhaps its recognition as a Federal Holiday will be the catalyst for it to be introduced to American children nationwide. As President Biden has said, “The promise of equality is not going to be fulfilled until we become real, it becomes real in our schools and on our main streets and in our neighborhoods.”  While the United States has a long way to go in terms of righting its horrific treatment of Black people historically, the nationwide recognition of Juneteenth seems to be a positive step forward in this direction.