Democratic legislation to make Juneteenth a federal holiday has received support from Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, one of the most influential GOP members of the upper house.
“Especially now, we need a moment of national reconciliation,” Cornyn told Mediaite. “Recognizing Juneteenth’s unique role in providing hope amidst the ravages of a horrific civil war can be that moment.”
Juneteenth, or June 19, honors the day Union General Gordan Granger led 20,000 troops to Galveston, Texas to read an order of legal pronouncement to free all enslaved black people on June 19, 1865.
Two years and a half years earlier, President Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation, however, the news took a while to get to Texas. The declaration read that “all slaves were free,” and should be paid wages if they were to continue working.
The news sparked celebrations in Galveston, and later throughout the rest of the state beginning on the first anniversary.
Over time, black people began celebrating Juneteenth throughout the United States.
Texas began to officially recognize Juneteenth in 1980, calling it a “holiday of significance…particularly to the blacks of Texas.”
Now, a bill called the “Juneteenth National Independence Day Act” has been sponsored by Senators Kamala D. Harris (D-CA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Edward J. Markey (D-MA) and Tina Smith (D-MN).
“The celebration of Juneteenth is about far more than remembering the day in 1865 when, more than two years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, enslaved Texans were finally freed from the bondage of slavery,” Booker said in a statement.
Cornyn has also co-sponsored the bill. Since 2013, the Texas lawmaker has been the Senate Republican Whip. He’s also considered the top-ranked GOP member of the Senate behind Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
“By remembering our history, we can learn from it,” Cornyn said.
“Juneteenth is about reclaiming our history, rejoicing in the progress we’ve made, and recommitting to the work yet undone,” Booker said. “Our nation still has a long way to go to reckon with and overcome the dark legacy of slavery and the violence and injustice that has persisted after its end. Making Juneteenth a federal holiday represents a step forward in the journey of healing America is still taking.”