Senate gives OK to historic bill

Juneteenth celebrations are scheduled throughout the St. Louis area the weekend of June 18-20 and events have even more historical significance in 2021.

On Tuesday, the Senate passed a bill that would make Juneteenth, or June 19th, a federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.

Juneteenth would become the 12th federal holiday, and the bill is expected to easily pass in the House.

Juneteenth commemorates when the last enslaved African Americans learned they were free. While Robert E. and the Confederacy surrendered in April 1865, word did not reach all enslaved Black people until June 19. Union soldiers brought news of the Civil War’s end and true Emancipation to Galveston, Texas on that day.

In June 2020, then-Sen. Kamala Harris sponsored a bill making Juneteenth a national holiday, saying “On Juneteenth, we remember the millions who suffered, died, and survived the crushing reality of slavery in America, and recommit ourselves to continuing in the fight for equal justice for all.”

“Without question, it should be recognized with the respect of a federal holiday,” Harris said.

Sens. Edward Markey, D-Mass., Corey Booker, D-N.J. were co-sponsors with Harris last year. This year’s bill had 60 co-sponsors.

“We have a long road towards racial justice in the United States and we cannot get there without acknowledging our nation’s original sin of slavery,” Markey said on Twitter.

It is long past time to make Juneteenth a federal holiday.”

St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones said of Juneteenth on June 2, “We must recognize and thank those before us who continued to fight in spite of the blatant oppression, and laid the foundation for our liberation, because this is our heritage.”

Nobody can take that from us,” Jones said while announcing the ART 2063 Juneteenth Caribbean Heritage Walkathon, which begins at 7 a.m. on June 19 in Forest Park.

Last June, St. Louis County Executive Sam Page closed county offices on Juneteenth. In February, Black History Month, Page announced that Juneteenth had been officially added to the county’s holiday calendar, 

“It’s important that we all take the opportunity to commemorate the historic gravity of Juneteenth,” Page said.

“It’s a day to appreciate the changes that we have seen since the 19th century while also reflecting upon how we can each play a role in the changes that are yet to come.”

Gerald Early, Washington University African and African American Studies professor, said the holiday should be more than just a celebration of the end of slavery.

“I would hope that people would look at it now, think about slavery, but also think about Black people renewing their hope and wanting to have America live up to its promises and finally that Black people would get the full citizenship that they should have gotten on the day that they learned that they were free,” Early told St. Louis Public Radio.

“Everyone should use Juneteenth to understand the nation’s legacy of slavery and oppression. We still suffer from inadequate health care, inadequate education.

“Black people's economic worth, their financial worth, we’re still at the bottom, and so we have suffered from the vestiges of slavery. So having this once again is a good way to remind people not only of the horrors of the past of slavery, but it’s still affecting black people today.”

Juneteenth celebrations. All occur on June 19 unless noted.


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