History of the Federal Holidays and the Road to Juntinth
Last year was one of the political conflicts in America, especially for the black community. From a deadly epidemic to escalating violence against minorities, the Black Lives Matter movement has gained great momentum toward the recognition of a defined date in the history of Black America. On June 17, 2021, President Biden signed a new U.S. federal holiday law, Juventus National Independence Day. Every year the holiday is celebrated on June 19, commemorating the day of the liberation of slaves in Texas, the last and largest state in the Union to enforce slavery. This day has been celebrated in the black community for decades, but will now be shared with the rest of the country as a celebration among Americans.
The first federal holidays were established by Congress in 1870, granting pay time for federal workers on New Year’s Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day. Ten years later, George Washington’s birthday was added, followed by Decoration Day (now Memorial Day) and Labor Day. In the early 1900’s, Armistice Day was added (now Veterans Day), followed by Opening Day which is celebrated only in the District of Columbia, then Columbus Day. The most recent holiday was the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., another milestone in American black history. However, like Juntinth, it went a long way to gaining recognition as a civil rights leader. The controversy lasted for 15 years, with proposals honoring Dr. King’s memory flooding the country since his assassination in 1968. However, the bill fell short of four votes, failing to secure a two-thirds majority. Speed increases and the campaign to recognize Dr. King increases. The House reconsidered the matter on August 2, 1983, and finally passed legislation that would make the third Monday in January a federal holiday in his honor. Then the long debate in the Senate began before the bill was passed in October. President Reagan signed the bill into law in November 1983.
After 38 years, Junting National Independence Day has been established. The holiday was on June 19, 1865, when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to take control of the state and free all slaves. Although President Abraham Lincoln announced his release two years earlier, on January 1, 1863, he did so in the midst of the American Civil War. Although this was the first step in freeing all slaves, it would become a process in later years. After the Union won the war in April ’65, a few months later, federal troops regained control and implemented what President Lincoln had announced two and a half years earlier. The celebration took place immediately among the recently released slaves, but not without exception. Violence by whites against blacks has been going on for years, especially in the southern states. Celebrations continued into the 20th century. Black people treated the day as the 4th of July, with small incidents in communities across the country. Some events in the early 1900’s will include speakers, a prayer service, liberation reading lessons, games, rodeo and dancing. In many parts of Texas, free men and women will even purchase land as a “field of liberation.” The celebration of Juventus declined during the Second World War in the mid-1900s, when the civil rights movement began. In the 1970s, the holiday was revived in some communities across Texas, prompting the Houston Democrat, Al Edwards, to propose a June 19 holiday in the state of Texas. The law was passed by the state legislature in 1979, and was signed into law by Governor Clements Jr. Since then, 48 states and Washington, D.C., have declared Juntinth a holiday, but only a few have recently recognized it as a pay holiday for state employees. .
According to the Congressional Research Service, technically there is no such thing as a national holiday, where all 50 states are tied together for a holiday these days. The precedent, instead, is to declare federal leave for Congress and the President where only federal workers are affected. States are then left to establish their own version of memory. However, most states recognize these federal holidays as their own, creating a national dialogue around what is being honored. That feeling motivated many black activists to fight for federal recognition of Juntinth. It has taken decades to create, but the cause has really gained momentum after the violence against the black community last year. Soon after the death of George Floyd in the summer of 2020, Texas Senator John Corinne and Texas Representative Sheila Jackson raised a bill to declare Juntinth a holiday. 155 years after the first celebration and 41 years after Texas declared a state holiday. The US Senate unanimously voted to declare June 19th, Juventus National Independence Day. One day later, on June 17, 2021, the House of Representatives voted 415-14 in agreement with the Senate, and President Biden signed the law.
This historic law is an example that the representatives you vote for can have a lasting effect on our country. Juventus will not only be a holiday for federal workers, it will be a day of conversation, reflection and celebration. Which will continue for the next few decades.
The History of Federal Holidays and the Road to Juventus was originally published in Voterly on Medium, where people continue the conversation by highlighting the story and reacting.
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