Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) introduced a bill to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. Cornyn wants this historic event to be remembered and celebrated, and to serve to motivate citizens in the effort toward greater equality.
“As we do every year, (Friday) Texans will celebrate Juneteenth and the 155th anniversary of the end of slavery in our state. It’s an opportunity to reflect on our history, the mistakes we have made, but yet how far we’ve come in the fight for equality, and a reminder of just how far we still have to go,” said Cornyn.
The designation of Juneteenth as a federal holiday, “supports the continued nationwide celebration of Juneteenth Independence Day to provide an opportunity for the people of the United States to learn more about the past and to better understand the experiences that have shaped the United States; and recognizes that the observance of the end of slavery is part of the history and heritage of the United States,” read a statement summarizing the bill.
At present, Juneteenth is celebrated by 47 states and the District of Columbia.
According to Congressional Research Services (CRS), federal holidays are created for several different reasons. In some instances, Congress does so, after a significant number of states create holidays, and in other instances Congress takes the initiative.
“Additionally, each holiday was designed to emphasize a particular aspect of American heritage or to celebrate an event in American history,” states a CRS report. During a speech on the Senate floor Thursday, the Senator from Texas spoke about the historical significance of the Juneteenth date.
“One of the most defining days in our nation’s history was when President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, finally freeing all slaves in Confederate territory. But slaves in Texas wouldn’t learn this life-altering news for two and a half years,” said Cornyn.
Major General Gordon Granger and the Union troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, and shared the news that all formerly enslaved people that they were now free. These newly freed men and women set out to share the news of emancipation, with many traveling toward Houston, and eventually reaching more than 250,000 slaves throughout Texas. “And that day came on a day we now celebrate as Juneteenth,” he added.
A Texas Congresswoman, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) has introduced a Juneteenth companion bill in the House.
Cornyn and Lee also introduced another pair of bills related to the Juneteenth event, which called for a federal study of the National Emancipation Trail from Galveston to Houston, following the path of slaves freed on June 19, 1865 to spread the news This legislation became law in January.
During his Senate floor speech Thursday, Cornyn also mentioned the GOP police reform bill (JUSTICE Act), which was introduced earlier in the week.
The senator said Juneteenth is an opportunity to reflect on recent events and spoke about the killing of George Floyd by the police and the protest calling for change.
“That is especially true this year. Over the last several weeks, Americans of all races and backgrounds, of all ages, have raised their voice in the fight against inequality and injustice that continues to exist in our society,” said Cornyn.
“As the list of black men and women killed by police officers in custody grows, the calls for action are getting louder and louder, as they must, and as they should,” he added.
“There is a clear and urgent need for leaders at every level to come together, and to deliver the change that we need to deliver, in order to match up with our ideals,” Cornyn said. “And we’ve been paying the bitter price throughout our nation’s history. And while we have come a long way. We know there is more we need to do in the context of police reforms.”