A bill to make Juneteenth a federal holiday was voted against by two Texas Republicans in the House, including Rep. Chip Roy who said the name of the “separate ‘Independence Day’” creates a division.
The House voted 415-14 on Wednesday to make Juneteenth, or June 19, a federal holiday to commemorate the end of slavery. President Joe Biden is scheduled to sign the bill, which was led by Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and Democrat U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, into law on Thursday.
The 14 House Republicans who voted against the bill included Roy, who represents parts of San Antonio, Austin and Kerrville, and Ronny Jackson, a former top White House physician under Donald Trump who now represents parts of the Panhandle. The Texas Tribune reported that Rep. Dan Crenshaw, of Houston, did not vote.
After Wednesday’s vote, Roy released a statement, saying that while he believes Juneteenth should be commemorated, he has an issue with the name of the federal holiday.
“I could not vote for this bill, however, because the holiday should not be called ‘Juneteenth National Independence Day’ but rather, ‘Juneteenth National Emancipation [or Freedom or otherwise] Day,” he said. “This name needlessly divides our nation on a matter that should instead bring us together by creating a separate Independence Day based on the color of one’s skin.”
He said that Democrat lawmakers “refused” a name change.
“As a country, we must stop dividing ourselves by race and unite in our common pursuit of the ideals set forth in our Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal.”
Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers brought the news of freedom to enslaved Black people in Galveston — 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.
Lee, of Houston, 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 Cornyn.
“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.