In a rare moment of union, American Republicans and Democrats approved, Wednesday, June 16 in Congress, the creation of a new federal holiday, June 19, to commemorate the emancipation of the last slaves in Texas in 1865. The President Joe Biden must now enact this law but his support is clear.
“This day represents freedom”, launched the elected Democrat of the House of Representatives Sheila Jackson Lee, one of the parliamentarians who carried the bill to make “Juneteenth” – contraction of June and 19 in English – a public holiday. The Chamber definitively adopted this text by 415 votes to 14, with the support of the Democratic and Republican leaders. The day before, it had been unanimously approved in the Senate.
In front of the old photo of a black man with a torn back, Sheila Jackson Lee, an African-American elected official, spoke in the hemicycle of the ” long trip “ traveled until this vote. “But we are here today, free to vote in favor of Juneteenth as a national independence day, a federal holiday for America”, did she say. “Recognizing and learning from past mistakes is essential to move forward”, wrote Republican Senator John Cornyn, who had brought this bill with her.
These two parliamentarians represent Texas in Congress. It was in this vast state that the last slaves had learned, on June 19, 1865, that they were henceforth free.
“A story marred by brutality and injustice”
President Abraham Lincoln had actually freed slaves from their bondage two and a half years earlier, by signing the 1is January 1863 the Emancipation Proclamation. But during the American Civil War (1861-1865), slavery had endured in the Southern Confederate States. Confederate Army Chief Robert Lee had signed his surrender on April 9, 1865. And it had taken over two months for the news to reach the small Texas town of Galveston on June 19.
The « Juneteenth » was already a holiday in some US states, including Texas, but it had not so far been marked with a federal date. Calls to make it a holiday had redoubled after the murder of George Floyd, an African-American killed by a white policeman in Minneapolis, Minnesota on May 25, 2020.
This date of June 19 “Reminds us of a history marred by brutality and injustice, and it reminds us of the responsibility we have to build a future of progress for all, which honors the ideal of equality” from the United States, said Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.