In honor of the recognition of Juneteenth as a federal holiday, the Law Library of Congress would like to commemorate its legislative history. The Juneteenth National Independence Day Act passed the Senate by unanimous consent on June 15, 2021, and the House on June 16, 2021, and was signed into law as Public Law 117-17.
Juneteenth, celebrated on June 19, was first celebrated in Texas in 1865. Though all enslaved people were declared free as of January 1, 1863, by President Lincoln in the Emancipation Proclamation, this “did not end slavery in the nation.” Furthermore, while General Robert E. Lee surrendered in April 1865, federal troops, led by Major General Gordon Granger, did not arrive in Galveston, Texas, until June 19, 1865. Granger issued General Order No. 3, informing the people of Texas that all enslaved people were now free. The 13th Amendment, ratified later that year, officially declared enslavement unconstitutional.
The Texas State Legislature passed a law officially recognizing Juneteenth in 1979. Today, 48 states formally recognize Juneteenth as a holiday. There were multiple bills prior to 2021 that sought to federally recognize Juneteenth.
Representative Barbara-Rose Collins was an advocate for Juneteenth during her congressional terms. She was the first to introduce a bill for the United States to formally recognize Juneteenth. Her bill, Recognizing the end of slavery in the United States, and the true day of independence for African-Americans was the first to propose federal recognition of Juneteenth.
Juneteenth was also a point of congressional debate in recent years. In June 2018, A resolution designating June 19, 2018, as ‘Juneteenth Independence Day’ in recognition of June 19, 1865, the date on which slavery legally came to an end in the United States was introduced by Senator Roger F. Wicker.
Another bill, Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, was introduced by Representative Sheila Jackson Lee in June 2020. Jackson Lee also introduced resolutions in both 2019 and 2020 to recognize “Juneteenth Independence Day.” Senator John Cornyn introduced similar resolutions in 2019 and 2020.
For the first Juneteenth as a federal holiday, we are proud to share the holiday’s legislative history, including information about the members of Congress who worked to accomplish this goal. Happy Juneteenth!