Sen. Tina Smith leads charge for national Juneteenth holiday

Submitted photo Sen. Tina Smith

Today the U.S. Senate passed legislation to commemorate Juneteenth as a federal holiday. The
Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, led by Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn) and her colleagues Sens. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), and John Cornyn (R-
Texas), passed the Senate unanimously Tuesday yesterday afternoon.

The measure passed overwhelmingly in the House Wednesday evening and is being sent to the White House for President Biden’s signature.

Below are Senator Smith’s remarks from the Senate floor on Wednesday.

“I rise today in celebration because last night the Senate put us one step closer to finally making
Juneteenth a federal holiday.

Juneteenth is our nation’s oldest celebration of Emancipation, and it should have been
established as a federal holiday long ago. I am so glad that yesterday the Senate passed our bill
with Senator Markey, the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, by unanimous consent.

The end of slavery in this country is a critical milestone in our history, and Juneteenth should be
commemorated nationwide as a day of celebration, reflection, and rededication to the cause of
racial justice in this country.

I am forever grateful to the generations of activists who made this possible. In particular, I want
to thank Ms. Opal Lee, who at 89 years old, walked halfway across this country to raise support
for Juneteenth as a federal holiday.

I had the opportunity to call Ms. Lee, now in her 90s, after this bill cleared the Senate yesterday,
and the sound of the joy in her voice when she heard that the Senate had passed this bill is a memory I will treasure for the rest of my life. Ms. Lee—I’ve been so honored to support your moral cause here in the Senate, and I hope to celebrate Juneteenth as an official federal holiday with you soon.

I also want to thank my colleagues—Senator Markey, and Senators Booker and Warnock for
their leadership on these efforts, as well as Senator Cornyn and Representative Sheila Jackson
Lee for their work to get this over the finish line. When it passed the Senate last night, we had
over 60 bipartisan cosponsors, and I am grateful to all of them for their support.

Commemorating Juneteenth as a federal holiday is an encouraging and deeply meaningful step—
but we have much farther to go on the path towards justice. Let’s use this victory to build
momentum for the systemic change we need—like protecting voting rights and safeguarding our
democracy, passing meaningful policing and criminal justice reform, pursuing economic and
environmental justice, and working towards a more just and equitable world.

I know there will be times when that path seems impossibly long because the scale of the
injustice is overwhelming. When that happens, I will think of Ms. Opal Lee—of her long walk to
Washington DC, and the joy in her voice when she heard the news that the Senate had taken one
more step towards her dream of federally recognizing Juneteenth—and draw inspiration and
strength from her example. I am proud to walk this path with her, and with all of you. Let’s keep