By ALEX SAMUELS
The Texas Tribune
Juneteenth is a day commemorating the emancipation of slaves in Texas on June 19, 1865.
On Monday, U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, introduced a resolution aiming to recognize the historical significance of the holiday. Her measure has more than 200 cosponsors.
Today, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn announced that he would introduce bipartisan legislation to make Juneteenth a federal holiday.
“As we do every year, tomorrow Texans will celebrate Juneteenth and the 155th anniversary of the end of slavery in our state,” the state’s senior senator said in a floor speech.
Cornyn’s remarks this afternoon came after he discussed the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to rule against the Trump administration’s efforts to end the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Earlier this week, a resolution from Cornyn honoring Juneteenth this year passed the U.S. Senate.
“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,” Cornyn said. “But slaves in Texas wouldn’t learn this life-altering news for two and a half years.
“It took two and a half years for the slaves in the south to learn that they were free. And that day came on a day we now celebrate as Juneteenth.”
Texas was first state to designate Juneteenth as a holiday. The bill was introduced by Rep. Al Edwards, D-Houston and signed into law in 1979. The first state-sponsored Juneteenth celebration took place June 19, 1980, according to Texas Handbook Online. Since then, 45 other states and the District of Columbia have moved to recognize the day.
The holiday has roots in the long-awaiting moment of emancipation for Black people in Texas, who found out more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation that they were free.
Friday, Cornyn said, “is 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.”
Calls for Juneteenth to become a federal holiday have gained momentum after the police killing of George Floyd and subsequent protests that have forced the nation to grapple with its history of slavery and racism.
“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,” Cornyn said.
“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.”
His own remarks come just one day after he faced a barrage of criticism for comments he made Wednesday over how to overhaul the country’s criminal justice system. During a hearing, Cornyn seemingly questioned whether isolated acts of police misconduct ought to be characterized as signs of systemic racism within all police departments and among police officers.
This article was first published at https://www.texastribune.org/2020/06/18/john-cornyn-juneteenth-holiday/ by The Texas Tribune. The Texas Tribune is proud to celebrate 10 years of exceptional journalism for an exceptional state.