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Congress Passes A Bill To Commemorate Juneteenth As A Federal Holiday


Today the president signs a law that will establish Juneteenth as a federal holiday. It's an increasingly rare display of bipartisanship here. Congress voted overwhelmingly to establish June 19 as a national day to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States.


SHEILA JACKSON LEE: Democrats and Republicans, we showed America that there is unity in the understanding of our history. That history of slavery is the original sin and should never be ignored. But now we have a national independence holiday for Juneteenth.


That was Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee yesterday. For years, she helped lead the effort to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. But that push gained significant support since the murder of George Floyd a year ago. We spoke last year to historian Daina Ramey Berry from the University of Texas at Austin, who explained the significance of Juneteenth.


DAINA RAMEY BERRY: That was the date that African American enslaved people in Texas were told that they were free. Now, the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1 of 1863 was supposed to free all the enslaved people in the, quote-unquote, "states of rebellion." But Texas slaves were not notified of their freedom until June 19 of 1865. And as a result, African Americans have been celebrating Juneteenth to celebrate African American freedom.

INSKEEP: Juneteenth has been a Texas holiday for four decades, but now will be the first federal holiday approved by Congress since 1983, when Martin Luther King Day began. The Senate passed this measure unanimously, by the way, and in the House, only 14 Republican lawmakers voted against it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.