GOP’s Cornyn Backs Juneteenth as Federal Holiday, Boosting Odds

Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn said he plans to introduce legislation to make Juneteenth, first celebrated in his home state to commemorate the day slaves there learned of Emancipation, as a federal holiday.

Marked annually on June 19, the day is “an opportunity to reflect on our history, the mistakes we have made, but yet how far we’ve come in the fight for equality, and a reminder of just how far we still have to go,” Cornyn said on the Senate floor on Thursday.

The backing from a top Senate Republican raises the prospects for action at a time when many political and corporate leaders are rushing to respond to demands for racial justice. A Texas Democrat, Sheila Jackson Lee, has introduced companion legislation in the House. There currently are 10 federal holidays.

The date currently is commemorated in Texas and 46 other states as well as the District of Columbia. In the wake of nationwide protests in the weeks since George Floyd was killed at the hands of Minneapolis police, Juneteenth is gaining wider attention as a day of significance, with some companies including Target Corp., Nike Inc. and Twitter Inc. making the day a paid holiday.

President Donald Trump had initially scheduled his first political rally since the pandemic shutdown for June 19 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where in 1921 White mobs destroyed a Black business district and massacred Black residents. He backed off after facing criticism and moved it to the next day.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal published Thursday, the president took credit for raising the profile of the date.

“I did something good: I made Juneteenth very famous,” Trump said, according to the Journal. “It’s actually an important event, an important time. But nobody had ever heard of it.”

Amid the interview, an aide to the president pointed out that the White House had previously issued statements marking Juneteenth, though Trump seemed unaware, the Journal reported.

Cornyn on the Senate floor Thursday spoke of the importance of the holiday, which marks the day when Union Army General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, to announce the end of the civil war and that all slaves in Texas were free. It came nearly 2 1/2 years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Abraham Lincoln.

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