Congress OKs Juneteenth as Fed Holiday 06/17 06:15

Congress OKs Juneteenth as Fed Holiday 06/17 06:15

   

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- The United States will soon have a new federal holiday 
commemorating the end of slavery.

   The House voted 415-14 on Wednesday to make Juneteenth, or June 19th, the 
12th federal holiday. The bill now goes to President Joe Biden's desk, and he 
is expected to sign it into law.

   Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers brought the news 
of freedom to enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas -- two months after the 
Confederacy had surrendered. That was also about 2 1/2 years after the 
Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in the Southern states.

   It's the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was 
created in 1983.

   "Our federal holidays are purposely few in number and recognize the most 
important milestones," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y. "I cannot think of a 
more important milestone to commemorate than the end of slavery in the United 
States."

   Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, speaking next to a large poster of a Black 
man whose back bore massive scarring from being whipped, said she would be in 
Galveston this Saturday to celebrate along with Republican Sen. John Cornyn of 
Texas.

   "Can you imagine?" said the rather short Jackson Lee. "I will be standing 
maybe taller than Sen. Cornyn, forgive me for that, because it will be such an 
elevation of joy."

   The Senate passed the bill a day earlier under a unanimous consent agreement 
that expedites the process for considering legislation. It takes just one 
senator's objection to block such agreements.

   "Please, let us do as the Senate. Vote unanimously for passage," Rep. David 
Scott, D-Ga., pleaded with his colleagues.

   The vote comes as lawmakers struggle to overcome divisions on police reform 
legislation following the killing of George Floyd by police and as Republican 
state legislators push what experts say is an unprecedented number of bills 
aimed at restricting access to the ballot box. While Republicans say the goal 
is to prevent voter fraud, Democrats contend that the measures are aimed at 
undermining minority voting rights.

   Several members of the Congressional Black Caucus took to the floor to speak 
in favor of the bill. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-N.J., said she viewed 
Juneteenth as a commemoration rather than a celebration because it represented 
something that was delayed in happening.

   "It also reminds me of what we don't have today," she said. "And that is 
full access to justice, freedom and equality. All these are often in short 
supply as it relates to the Black community."

   The bill was sponsored by Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and had 60 
co-sponsors. Democratic leaders moved quickly to bring the bill to the House 
floor after the Senate's vote the day before.

   Some Republican lawmakers opposed the effort. Rep. Matt Rosendale, R-Mont., 
said creating the federal holiday was an effort to celebrate "identity 
politics."

   "Since I believe in treating everyone equally, regardless of race, and that 
we should be focused on what unites us rather than our differences, I will vote 
no," he said in a press release.

   The vast majority of states recognize Juneteenth as a holiday or have an 
official observance of the day, and most states hold celebrations. Juneteenth 
is a paid holiday for state employees in Texas, New York, Virginia and 
Washington.

   Under the legislation, the federal holiday would be known as Juneteenth 
National Independence Day.

   Rep. Clay Higgins, R-La., said that he would vote for the bill and that he 
supported the establishment of a federal holiday, but he was upset that the 
name of the holiday included the word "independence" rather than "emancipation."

   "Why would the Democrats want to politicize this by coopting the name of our 
sacred holiday of Independence Day?" Higgins asked.

   Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Mich., replied, "I want to say to my white 
colleagues on the other side: Getting your independence from being enslaved in 
a country is different from a country getting independence to rule themselves."

   She added, "We have a responsibility to teach every generation of Black and 
white Americans the pride of a people who have survived, endured and succeeded 
in these United States of America despite slavery."

   The 14 House Republicans who voted against the bill were Andy Biggs of 
Arizona, Mo Brooks of Alabama, Andrew Clyde of Georgia, Scott DesJarlais of 
Tennessee, Paul Gosar of Arizona, Ronny Jackson of Texas, Doug LaMalfa of 
California, Thomas Massie of Kentucky, Tom McClintock of California, Ralph 
Norman of South Carolina, Mike Rogers of Alabama, Rosendale of Montana, Chip 
Roy of Texas and Tom Tiffany of Wisconsin.

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