Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn Backs Democratic Bill to Make Juneteenth a Federal Holiday


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Many bills Congress debates fall into predictable partisan patterns — especially those involving issues of race — but a bill to make Juneteenth a federal holiday has earned bipartisan support, including from one of the most powerful Senate Republicans, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX).

Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union General Gordon Granger, accompanied by 20,000 troops, marched to Galveston, Texas and read aloud from a federal order setting forth a legal pronouncement that the slaves were all freed.

President Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation nearly two and a half years earlier, but news had been slow to reach Texas, then on the western frontier of the United States. The “Order No. 3” read by Granger declared clearly that “all slaves were free,” and if their former masters wished them to continue working, they would have to pay them wages.

The news set off celebrations in Galveston immediately after Granger’s announcement, and then spreading elsewhere around Texas starting on the first anniversary.

Over the years, Juneteenth celebrations were held around the country, gaining new significance during the Civil Rights Era. In 1980, Texas became the first state to officially recognize Juneteenth a “holiday of significance…particularly to the blacks of Texas,” and forty-six states and the District of Columbia currently recognize Juneteenth as an official state holiday or observance.

Juneteenth has yet not been designated a federal holiday, but a bill filed Friday would change that. The “Juneteenth National Independence Day Act” was sponsored by Senators Kamala D. Harris (D-CA), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Tina Smith (D-MN), and Cory Booker (D-NJ).

“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 press release announcing the legislation.

“Juneteenth is about reclaiming our history, rejoicing in the progress we’ve made, and recommitting to the work yet undone,” he continued. “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.”

Cornyn threw his support behind the bill, adding his name as a co-sponsor and publicly speaking out in favor of its passage. Cornyn, who has served as the Senate Republican Whip since 2013, is his party’s top ranked member in the Senate after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and serves a vital role in determining what bills move forward.

Cornyn using his political capital to bolster the bill significantly increases the chances it will pass, especially in a divisive election year with Democrats controlling the House and Republicans the Senate. Bill after bill have passed one chamber only to wither and die in the other.

Reached for comment by Mediaite, Cornyn emphasized that recognizing Juneteenth had become even more important because of current events, after weeks of nationwide protests over police brutality and the legacy of racism.

“Especially now, we need a moment of national reconciliation,” said Cornyn. “Recognizing Juneteenth’s unique role in providing hope amidst the ravages of a horrific civil war can be that moment. By remembering our history, we can learn from it.”

The Texas Senator posted several tweets and retweets over the past two days, sharing some of his state’s history commemorating the day and emphasizing his support for the bill.

The bill’s Democratic co-sponsors also posted tweets urging passage of the bill.

A companion bill has been filed in the House and is viewed as likely to pass.

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