Federal workers get surprise Friday off for new Juneteenth holiday

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The White House announced Thursday that most federal workers will have Friday off due to the new Juneteenth federal holiday, which President Biden will sign into law Thursday afternoon.

White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain announced the surprise three-day weekend on Twitter.

“Today [Biden] will sign the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, establishing June 19th as a federal holiday. As the 19th falls on a Saturday, most federal employees will observe the holiday tomorrow, June 18th,” Klain tweeted.

Juneteenth is the 11th federal holiday and was approved with overwhelming support in Congress. It emerged as a local holiday in Texas that celebrated the date in 1865 that Union Gen. Gordon Granger informed slaves in Galveston that they were free pursuant to the 1862 Emancipation Proclamation that liberated slaves in Confederate states.

Then-Texas Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison proposed in 2012 that the date receive federal recognition and last year Texas GOP Sen. John Cornyn dusted off the idea in the wake of pro-racial equality and anti-police brutality protests.

Federal holidays are rarely created and some Republicans expressed concern about the economic effects of another day off work. Sens. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and James Lankford (R-Okla.) unsuccessfully sought to abolish Columbus Day to make Juneteenth have no effect on productivity.

The new holiday ultimately won unanimous approval in the Senate and passed the House in a 415-14 vote.

Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) voted “no” saying, “I don’t believe the title ‘National Independence Day’ works” because Independence Day is recognized as July 4, or the anniversary of the 1776 Declaration of Independence.

Another opponent, Rep. Matt Rosedale (R-Mont.) cited present-day debates about Critical Race Theory, which opponents say overemphasizes the importance and legacy of race, rather than focus on individuals and their actions.

“This is an effort by the Left to create a day out of whole cloth to celebrate identity politics as part of its large effort to make Critical Race Theory the reigning ideology of our country,” Rosedale said.

Although Juneteenth gained popularity as an emancipation celebration, slavery continued in the United States until ratification of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in December 1865.

Momentum toward enacting the holiday grew amid nationwide civil unrest last year after the death of African-American man George Floyd in Minneapolis when police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck. Chauvin was convicted of murder in April.

The US rarely establishes new federal holidays. The most recent addition was Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which was approved in 1983 to celebrate King’s leadership in the Civil Rights Movement.

In 1968, Italian Americans successfully campaigned for the establishment of Columbus Day, which celebrates the Italian explorer credited with discovering the New World. Veterans Day, established under a different name in 1938, marked the Nov. 11 anniversary of World War I ending.

The other federal holidays are Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day, George Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day.

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