What Is Juneteenth And How Did It Become The 11th US Federal Holiday?

President Joe Biden has signed into law a bill that recognizes Juneteenth as the nation's newest federal holiday.

What Happened: The bill, which officially designates June 19 as “Juneteenth National Independence Day,” was introduced in the U.S. Senate by John Cornyn (R-TX) and Edward Markey (D-MA) and in the House of Representatives by Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX). The Senate passed the legislation unanimously on Tuesday and by a 415-14 vote in the House on Wednesday.

Juneteenth becomes the 11th federal holiday* and the first new federal holiday since the 1983 recognition of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Why It Happened: Juneteenth is an observance of the events of June 19, 1865, in Galveston, Texas, when the last Black slaves of the Confederacy were ordered freed following the arrival of Union troops. Galveston was the last corner of the defeated Confederacy to be secured, two months after the Civil War was over.

For many years, Juneteenth celebrations were unique to Texas. More recently, the holiday was observed throughout the country, and the call for making it a federal holiday was amplified following the unrest from last summer that stemmed from the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.

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Some Lingering Questions: Although Juneteenth is highlighted as celebrating the end of slavery in the U.S., slavery was still legal until the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution on Dec. 18, 1865.

President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freeing enslaved people only applied to the states that seceded to form the Confederacy; the president lacked the authority to ban slavery by executive order within the Union states. Slavery persisted in Delaware and Kentucky until the 13th Amendment became the law.

While federal workers will now have another paid holiday, it's not certain how privately owned companies will react to the addition of Juneteenth to the holiday line-up. According to a recent Mercer LLC survey, some federal holidays are routinely ignored in the private sector: 55% of private sector employers give Martin Luther King Jr. Day off as a paid holiday, while roughly one-third of companies give their employees paid time off for Presidents Day and 13% offer that benefit for Veterans Day.

It's also unclear whether the NYSE and NASDAQ will close for Juneteenth if June 19 falls on a weekday. The markets are not closed for two federal holidays, Columbus Day and Veterans Day, and it took 15 years and a lobbying effort by Rev. Jesse Jackson before the markets agreed to close for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

The only day that the stock markets close outside of the federal holidays is Good Friday, which is considered by many as the holiest day in the Christian calendar.

The following Federal holidays are established by law:

  • New Year's Day (Jan. 1)
  • Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. (Third Monday in January)
  • Washington's Birthday (Third Monday in February)
  • Memorial Day (Last Monday in May)
  • Juneteenth National Independence Day (June 19)
  • Independence Day (July 4)
  • Labor Day (First Monday in September)
  • Columbus Day (Second Monday in October)
  • Veterans Day (Nov. 11)
  • Thanksgiving Day (Fourth Thursday in November)
  • Christmas Day (Dec. 25).

*Inauguration Day is a paid federal holiday every four years, celebrated on Jan. 20 or Jan 21.

(Photograph of formerly enslaved people circa 1866 courtesy of the Boone Hall Plantation.)

Posted In: federal holidayJoe BidenJuneteenthslaveryGovernmentNewsRegulationsEducationPoliticsTop StoriesGeneral

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