Pioneer who helped create Juneteenth bill, Al Edwards, dies at 83

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HOUSTON — Hon. Albert Ely Edwards, the former state representative who introduced the bill that helped make Juneteenth a state holiday, has died. He was 83.

The former Democratic legislaor served south Houston’s House District 146 from 1979 to 2007, and again from 2009 to 2011.

Per his bio on Historymakers.org, Edwards was born in Houston on March 19, 1937. He was the sixth out of sixteen children born to Reverend E. L. Edwards, Sr. and Josephine Radford Edwards. He graduated from Phyllis Wheatley High School and attended Texas Southern University, earning his B.A. degree in 1966.

At the age of 41, Edwards entered politics and was elected to the Texas State Legislature from Houston’s House District 146. His first major goal was to ensure the establishment of a holiday that recognized the emancipation of slavery. In 1979, legislation recognizing Juneteenth Day passed the Texas State Legislature and was signed into law.
Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, is an annual holiday in 14 states of the United States. Celebrated on June 19th, it commemorates the announcement of the abolition of slavery in Texas. While serving in the legislature, Edwards also founded his own real estate company.

Though deeply involved with local issues, Edwards remained active in many issues outside the Texas State Legislature. In 1983, Edwards was appointed as a member of the board of Operation PUSH. Edwards also served as the Texas State Director of Reverend Jesse Jackson’s two presidential campaigns in 1984 and 1988.

In 1986, Edwards also founded Operation Justus, a community faith-based organization that serves as a referral service for persons with social problems and concerns. Edwards was also arrested in Houston and went to jail for peacefully demonstrating against apartheid in South Africa in 1987.

Edwards left the Texas legislature in 2007 after 28 years of serving the people of District 146. As a veteran member of the Texas Legislature, Edwards served on three influential committees. He was the Chairman of the Rules and Resolutions Committee, Chairman of Budget and Oversight of the Ways and Means Committee and a member of the Appropriations Committee.