Press Release

June 17, 2021
Cardin Marks the First Official Juneteenth Federal Holiday
"Celebrating a new federal holiday is not a replacement for the important, redemptive work necessary yearlong to move us closer to a more just and perfect union."

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) issued the following statement today in advance of the first federal Juneteenth National Independence Day holiday. Senator Cardin was a cosponsor of S. 475, the measure signed into law on Thursday.

“As a nation, we recognize the annual commemoration of Juneteenth, the date on which the news of the end of slavery reached the enslaved peoples in the Southwestern States.  On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger and Union soldiers communicated the news of liberation to one of the last remaining confederate outposts in Galveston, Texas.  More than two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, the enslaved individuals there had yet to hear the good news.

“I have long supported legislation to add Juneteenth to the list of legal federal public holidays.  After many years, I am pleased that Congress finally passed this act and President Joe Biden signed it into law.

“Over the years, African-American communities nationwide, including in Maryland, have developed rich traditions around this historically significant date. For all Americans, Juneteenth offers an opportunity to reflect upon and to educate ourselves further about the terrible history of slavery and its enduring legacy that lives on today.

“One such persistent impact is access to the ballot box. Dozens of studies and countless personal stories combine to tell us how Black Americans still experience greater barriers to voting than do white Americans. Today, one of the most important tenets of our comprehensive legislation to protect democracy, the For the People Act, is enacting a federal floor when it comes to voting rights standards.

“Many voter disenfranchisement laws today come from post-Civil War efforts to stifle the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. Between 1865 and 1880, at least 13 states enacted or expanded their felony disenfranchisement laws. One of the primary goals of these laws was to prevent Black Americans from voting. At least eleven of those states still bar individuals on felony probation or parole from voting.  Under our Constitution, there is no legitimate justification for denying people from having a voice in our democracy. Disenfranchising citizens who are living and working in the community serves no compelling State interest and hinders their rehabilitation and reintegration into society.  My ‘Democracy Restoration Act’ (S. 481) would restore federal voting rights for all individuals immediately upon release from incarceration. I am proud that this bill, and my “Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act,” are included within the For the People Act.

“Finally, I want to commend lawmakers in Maryland for bipartisan restorative justice work over the past several years. The Maryland General Assembly voted nearly unanimously in 2019 to investigate the more than 40 documented racial terror lynchings that took place in Maryland between 1854 and 1933; to hold public hearings in communities where racial terror lynchings occurred; and to develop recommendations that are rooted in restorative justice for addressing, engaging, and reconciling those communities. The commission the state established has received supplemental funding from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Emmett Till Cold Case Investigations Program for its efforts.  Because of this work, Governor Hogan issued posthumous pardons last month for 34 victims of racial lynching in Maryland.

“This Juneteenth, I encourage all Americans to recognize this day as an opportunity to reflect upon our Nation’s shared history and to recognize the enduring effects of slavery on our society. Celebrating a new federal holiday is not a replacement for the important, redemptive work necessary yearlong to move us closer to a more just and perfect union.”