The United States senate passed a bill which recognizes Juneteenth as a national holiday. It was later passed by the House and then signed into law by President Biden on June 17.
Locally, an annual Juneteenth celebration begins at 10 a.m. Saturday in Jacksonville with a parade leading to Lincoln Park where there will be food and drinks, a domino tournament about noon and a bounce house for the young to enjoy.
Michall Williams, organizer of the Juneteenth celebration reacted to the news of the bill’s passage in the senate.
“I’m happy to see that it’s progressing along, because Juneteenth is a holiday that we all need to give some kind of acknowledgment,” she said.
She believes the rise in social justice groups may have been the push necessary for the holiday to be nationally recognized and she could be right, since the bill introduced by Cornyn failed to pass the Senate last year.
“It's finally time to recognize Juneteenth as a national holiday,” Cornyn said after Biden signed it into law Thursday, June 17. “I reintroduced this bipartisan bill with the Senator from Massachusetts, Senator Markey, this year, and I have been proud to work alongside my fellow Texan, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee in the House to get the bill passed and signed into law.”
Another local perspective came from Pastor Dwight Rivers of Ambassadors for Christ in Jacksonville.
“I think it’s a good thing. As a black man who really knows a lot about our history, I believe it’s nice that it’s being recognized, but I do know that Martin Luther King is also a national holiday but most companies still don’t let their people off on it,” Rivers said.
He explained that the recognition was good if it was used as a starting point for educating people about the history behind the event.
“To me it’s about the education of the people, Black and White, as to the history of the black man and the black people and what we went through,” Rivers said.
He finds it disheartening when White people look down at African Americans, unaware of the contributions to society by Black Americans, such as the three-light traffic light by Garrett Morgan, the automatic clothes dryer by George T. Sampson or Fredrick Jones’ mobile refrigeration. Rivers says its sadder still when those in the Black community are unaware of their own history.
“The great thing that I do know, and that I recognize in this country, is that everybody didn’t have that mentality because it took white people to actually free the black people,” Rivers said. “So I just thank God that there are people, even today, who have the mentality that all men are created equal.”
The bill, introduced by Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) with the bipartisan support of Senator Ed Markey (D-Ma) and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), designates June 19 as Juneteenth National Independence Day.
“The freedom of all Americans that Texas celebrates every Juneteenth should be celebrated all across the nation,” Cornyn said following the bill’s passage in the Senate. “The passage of this bill represents a big step in our nation’s journey toward equality. I thank my colleagues in the Senate for their support, and my fellow Texans who have been celebrating this important holiday for more than a century.”
Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, the date which Major General Gordon Granger of the Union army informed enslaved people at Galveston that they were free. The Emancipation Proclamation had been issued about two and a half years earlier during the midst of the Civil War.
Since that time, Juneteenth has been celebrated in some form across the state of Texas, which officially recognized Juneteenth as a state holiday effective in 1980. Only three states, Hawaii, North Dakota and South Dakota, had not recognized Juneteenth as a state holiday.