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Juneteenth Will Become a Federal Holiday — Here’s Why That Matters

President Joe Biden has enacted new legislation that will make Juneteenth a federal holiday.

In an unusually bipartisan effort, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 415-14 on Wednesday to recognize June 19, or Juneteenth, as the 11th federal holiday — after the Senate approved the proposal by a unanimous consent agreement. The date commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S.: On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers rode into Galveston, Texas, bringing news that enslaved Black people were officially emancipated.

Biden signed the bill into law today. The holiday will officially be known as Juneteenth National Independence Day, and all government offices will close on that date.

Aside from giving federal employees an extra paid day off, the decision to recognize Juneteenth at the federal level shines a brighter light on the history of slavery in the U.S. and the continuing fight for equality in the country. It also builds off a growing movement among the public and private sectors to honor and support the Black community, particularly following the death of George Floyd in 2020 and the widespread demonstrations demanding social justice and an end to police violence.

Juneteenth has been observed at the state level since the 1980s, though the past year has spurred more leaders to acknowledge it in a more-official way. This month, Oregon, Maine and Hawaii passed new legislation to recognize the date, making it a holiday in 49 states. (South Dakota is the only remaining holdout.)

Meanwhile, even though private companies are not required to observe state or federal holidays, a growing number of shoe brands and retailers have been choosing to close their doors on June 19. Last year, several announced plans to add it as a company holiday, including Nike, Target, JCPenney, New Balance and Tapestry Inc.

This year, The Whitaker Group, FN’s 2020 Retailer of the Year, announced it will close all of its A Ma Maniere, Social Status and Prosper stores for Juneteenth, with plans to focus on programming and content that sheds a light on issues that affect the Black community. In addition to dedicating its social channels to the conversation on June 19, Whitaker Group also is sponsoring a digital 5K race with athlete and activist Zha Dadson of @RunwithZha, to highlight organizations fighting for change and promoting health and wellness. Runners can participate virtually at any time by signing up here.

Similarly, lifestyle retailer DTLR announced it is marking Juneteenth this year by partnering with local nonprofits and other community organizations to educate and bring awareness in key cities where it operates, including Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Philadelphia and Miami. Among the events planned, DTLR will sponsor the NAACP’s annual Juneteenth parade in Atlanta. And in Baltimore, the company is sponsoring a Juneteenth festival and installing a mural painted by former NFL player and activist Aaron Maybin on the side of its store on Monument Street.

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