The House of Representatives backed the legislation by 415-14, a day after it was unanimously approved by the Senate. It is the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr Day was established in 1983. Juneteenth marks the day on 19 June 1865 when enslaved black people in Texas learned they had been freed.
The measure now heads to the White House to be enacted into law. President Joe Biden’s fellow Democrats sponsored the measure and it cruised through Congress with unexpected speed in a rare show of bipartisanship.
Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, a Texas Democrat, spoke during the House floor debate before a photo showing a man’s back scarred from whippings during slavery. She said the Juneteenth federal holiday was brought forward to “commemorate the end of chattel slavery, America’s original sin, and to bring about celebration”.
Fourteen House Republicans voted against the bill. One of them, Matt Rosendale of Montana, said the legislation was all about “identity politics”. “Since I believe in treating everyone equally, regardless of race, and that we should be focused on what unites us rather than our differences, I will vote no,” he said. Clay Higgins, a Louisiana Republican, said he would support the measure, even though he objected to the bill’s proposal to name the new holiday Juneteenth National Independence Day.