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Rep. Jackson Lee Recalls Her Role In Making Juneteenth A National Holiday

Today, we commemorate the emancipation of enslaved African Americans with the national holiday of Juneteenth, a celebration that began in Texas and then spread to other states. 

The push to make Juneteenth a national holiday began in 1996, when the first legislation to recognize the celebration was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives. However, it was not until 2021 that Juneteenth became a national holiday with the help of Texas lawmakers.

U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-TX, recalled her efforts to make Juneteenth a federal holiday in a recent op-ed published in the Houston Chronicle.

“My work to establish a Juneteenth federal holiday began in 2013, when in Congress, I introduced my first Juneteenth Resolution to recognize the day’s historic significance,” Jackson Lee wrote. “I continued to introduce a resolution each year.”

This push continued annually but gained significant momentum in 2020 following the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent nationwide protests against racial injustice. In the wake of these events, the movement for federal recognition of Juneteenth intensified.

Activists such as Opal Lee, known as the “grandmother of Juneteenth” also campaigned for the recognition of the celebration as a federal holiday.

Rep. Jackson Lee introduced a resolution to the house and Sen. Ed Markey reached out to her to collaborate and introduce a similar bill in the Senate.

“The House did not advance H.R. 1320. But if the companion bill, S. 475,  passed in the Senate, it would come back to the House for a vote, so my efforts shifted toward getting allies in the Senate to pass that version,” Jackson Lee wrote. “My longtime Juneteenth partner, Texas Sen. John Cornyn, joined this effort wholeheartedly and became the lead Republican sponsor of the Markey bill.”

The Senate bill, S. 475, gained the necessary support, with Senator Raphael Warnock becoming the 60th cosponsor, ensuring its passage. The Senate passed the bill on June 15, followed by the House on June 16.

President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law on June 17, 2021, making June 19 a federal holiday. The signing ceremony included the Congressional Black Caucus and Ms. Opal Lee.

“At last, the United States had recognized a holiday to commemorate the end of chattel slavery — America’s  original sin — and to celebrate the perseverance that has been the hallmark of the African American struggle for equity and equality,” Jackson Lee concluded. “I am proud to have been part of it.”

RA Staff
RA Staff
Written by RA News staff.


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