WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats on Friday introduced legislation to make Juneteenth, a widely observed holiday that marks the federal order to free slaves in Texas on June 19, 1865, a national holiday.
Also known as Emancipation Day, Black Independence Day or Jubilee Day, Juneteenth celebrates the end of slavery after the Civil War, although President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had legally accomplished that within the Confederacy more than two years earlier. The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1965, abolished slavery throughout the entire United States.
The day, which began as a Texas holiday in 1980, is now recognized by 47 states and the District of Columbia as a state holiday or observance and is marking its 155th anniversary this year.
“Juneteenth is about reclaiming our history, rejoicing in the progress we’ve made, and recommitting to the work yet undone,” said Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., in a press release announcing the measure. “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,”
The bill is also sponsored by Sens. Ed Markey, D-Mass., Tina Smith, D-Minn., and Kamala Harris, D-Calif. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said Thursday he had also planned to introduce a similar bill.
Their legislation would also call for the formation of a commission to encourage appropriate ceremonies and activities across the country.
While the Emancipation Proclamation was issued in 1863, it took more than two years for all of the slaves in the South to learn that they were free. On June 19, 1865, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, and announced the end of the Civil War and of slavery.
The legislation comes as President Donald Trump prepares to hold his first rally in months in Tulsa, Okla., on Saturday, which was originally scheduled for Friday. He moved the event to the following day because of Juneteenth, though he has also faced criticism because Tulsa was the site of one of the deadliest race massacres in U.S. history in 1921.