The House passed a resolution Tuesday making June 19 officially the “Juneteenth National Independence Day,” a federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.
This victory is long overdue as African Americans in the South has been celebrating Juneteenth for decades. The movement gained national attention after push by Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd, and the “insurrection” by white supremacists at the U.S. Capitol. Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn and Texas Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee led the effort to make Juneteenth the 12th federal holiday.
“What I see here today is racial divide crumbling, being crushed this day under a momentous vote that brings together people who understand the value of freedom,” Jackson-Lee said.
The bill passed the House 415-14 after the Senate unanimously passed the legislation Tuesday. The 14 Republicans to vote against the bill were Reps. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, Mo Brooks of Alabama, Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee, Andy Biggs of Arizona, Tom Tiffany of Wisconsin, Doug LaMalfa of California, Tom McClintock of California, Mike Rogers of Alabama, Matt Rosendale of Montana, Ronny Jackson of Texas, Ralph Norman of South Carolina, Andrew Clyde of Georgia, Chip Roy of Texas and Paul Gosar of Arizona.
Congressman Al Green released the following statement that read, in part:
“Juneteenth marks the anniversary of General Gordon Granger arriving in Galveston, Texas, and delivering the news of emancipation to enslaved Texans on June 19, 1865. More than two years after President Lincoln’s January 1, 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, which was intended to free enslaved persons in Confederate states, the enslaved in Texas finally received word of their freedom from General Granger, who was backed by 2,000 Union soldiers.”
Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson blocked the bill in 2020, saying that the day off for federal employees would cost US taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. Johnson dropped his objection this week despite his concerns, paving the way for the bill’s passage in the Senate.
“Although I strongly support celebrating Emancipation, I objected to the cost and lack of debate,” said Johnson in a statement. “While it still seems strange that having taxpayers provide federal employees paid time off is now required to celebrate the end of slavery, it is clear that there is no appetite in Congress to further discuss the matter.”
Congressman Green began recognizing Juneteenth as a paid holiday in his office in 2020.
“What began as a grassroots movement to commemorate Texas history is now set to become our nation’s 12th federal holiday. In honor of the late Al Edwards – the father of the Juneteenth holiday in Texas – and every person illegally enslaved in Texas during the period between Lincoln’s proclamation and Granger’s announcement of emancipation, I eagerly anticipate the opportunity to vote for this legislation on the House floor.”