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Juneteenth becomes federal holiday, critics say this law not enough

Published: Jun. 17, 2021 at 7:04 PM EDT
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ROCK HILL, S.C. (WBTV) -Juneteenth is officially a federal holiday.

A bill designating it as a federal holiday overwhelmingly passed both houses of Congress on Wednesday. President Biden signed the bill into law Thursday afternoon. Juneteenth will be the newest national holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day. That happened almost 40 years ago.

Some people have thought about this moment for some time.

”I think it would be a great idea just to better represent our country as a whole,” said Genesis Doster.

Others do not really have a lot of information on it.

”I know it, but I don’t really even remember what it is,” said James Smart.

”There’s probably too many federal holidays right now but why not have another one?” said one person.

Juneteenth commemorates the day the last enslaved Africans were told they were free. A group of Union soldiers marched into Galveston, Texas to say the Civil War had ended and the slaves were freed. This was more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed.

When the Blacks heard they were finally free, which happened June 19, or Juneteenth, it was cause for celebration. For Black people, Juneteenth marks the struggles of slavery but also the empowerment felt knowing the last slaves were freed.

A little bit excited about Juneteenth becoming a federal holiday,” said Dr. Norma Gray, NAACP Rock Hill president. “The fact that legislation caught up with it was great news to hear but not anything that made me want to do cartwheels and back flips.”

Norma Gray says this newest move is a distraction from what is really needed. She hopes that the people who are working toward more reform for Black people do not forget the real change that needs to happen to help.

”It’s pretty much like giving us gravy with no meat. I need something with some teeth,” she said.

”In most African American communities, we recognized this. We’ve been celebrating this for as long as I can remember. But what we really need is legislations that is going to improve the condition and change systemic racism,” she explained.

For her, that includes voting rights, education bills and police reform. While law makers overwhelmingly voted to make this holiday happen, Gray feels more important legislation struggle to get off the ground.

”Juneteenth is about freedom. We will not be free until all of us have equality on a federal level,” said Gray.

In his speech Thursday, President Joe Biden said he and Congress are working to provide more money to black entrepreneurs and historically black universities and colleges. He also says he wants to get more black homeowners and more black and brown children into schools even earlier. Biden said there is still more work to be done.

Juneteenth falls on a Saturday this year, but federal workers will have Friday off to celebrate the newest holiday.

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