US To Add Federal Holiday Marking End Of Slavery

The US Congress has overwhelmingly passed a bill to add a federal holiday to the calendar marking Juneteenth – the end of slavery in the nation. 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. 

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.

An attempt to pass the same bill last year foundered when a Republican senator objected to the annual cost, which he pegged at $600m (£430m). But no-one opposed the measure in the upper chamber on Monday when it was passed unanimously.

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