Juneteenth Made a Federal Holiday

President Biden has signed into law a bill passed by Congress to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. In a rare demonstration of bi-partisanship, the bill passed the House of Representatives by an overwhelming majority vote of 415-14 and passed the Senate unanimously.

Juneteenth celebrates June 19, 1865, the day the news of emancipation reached slaves in Texas. The Emancipation Proclamation, signed as a war measure by President Abraham Lincoln, took effect on January 1, 1863. Technically, it only freed those slaves that lived in those states and parts of states that, at that time, were in rebellion against the United States. It took the 13th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution, passed by Congress on January 31, 1865 and ratified on December 6, 1865, to abolish slavery across the nation. However, with the surrender of the Confederate military forces under Gen. Robert E. Lee in April, 1865, followed by the quick disintegration of the Confederate government led by its president, Jefferson Davis, for all practical purposes, slavery was finished as an institution in the spring of 1865. That summer, federal forces took control of Galveston, TX and informed the slaves there that they were free. Juneteenth was first celebrated as the end of slavery in the United States a year later, in 1866.

Alongside Biden at the signing of the bill was Opal Lee, the 94-year-old “Grandmother of Juneteenth” who organized Juneteenth celebrations for years in her local community and began organizing to make Juneteenth a federal holiday in 2016. When Lee was nine-years-old a mob in her Texas town burned her family’s home down after they moved into a White neighborhood. The tragedy happened on June 19 — Juneteenth. Lee says her parents never spoke of the incident again, deciding to work hard and buy another house. Lee told the local TV station in Fort Worth, TX, where she lives, “We’ve got all of these disparities that we’ve got to address and I mean all of them. While we’ve got some momentum I hope we can get some of it done. We can have one America if we try.”

July 4 is a federal holiday celebrating the birth of the United States, when the Declaration of Independence was adopted and signed by members of the Continental Congress. That Declaration declared: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of happiness.” Juneteenth celebrates the hope that the promise of the Declaration of Independence will be extended to all. It is rightfully a federal holiday and ought to be celebrated by all Americans of every racial and ethnic background, because it celebrates a promise made though not always kept, but the hope of that promise someday being fulfilled.

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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