Juneteenth (officially known as Juneteenth National Independence Day) is a federal holiday in the United States celebrating the emancipation of African American slaves. It will next be celebrated on Saturday, June 19, a.k.a. tomorrow.
This week, the Senate and the House voted in favor of making Juneteenth a day that commemorates the day that the last enslaved people in the US found out they had been legally free for two years. On Thursday afternoon, President Joe Biden signed the bill into law.
Toward the end of the Civil War, planters and other slaveholders migrated to Texas to escape the fighting, bringing their slaves with them, a phenomenon that increased significantly the enslaved population in Texas.
The celebrated day’s origins were in the morning of Monday, June 19, 1865, Union Major General Gordon Granger arrived on the island of Galveston, Texas to take command of federal troops that had landed in Texas to enforce the emancipation of slaves there and oversee the nullifying of all the laws that had been passed by Confederate lawmakers in Texas during the war.
Granger’s men marched throughout Galveston reading aloud General Order No. 3 which informed all Texans that, in accordance with the presidential Proclamation of Emancipation, all slaves were now free.
On Tuesday, the Senate voted unanimously to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. But on Wednesday, when the House of Representatives also voted overwhelmingly in favor of Juneteenth, 14 House Republicans voted against it.
Why would a group of House members decide to risk becoming pariahs even in their own party? It turns out almost every one of them offered a reasonable explanation. I decided to round up those responses here for the benefit of those readers who, like myself, feel a bit iffy about choosing to celebrate a day in history when the US government informed unsuspecting African American slaves they had been ripped off.
Mo Brooks from northern Huntsville, Alabama, argued that instead of commemorating the incident in Galveston, the bill “should have been celebrating the Emancipation Proclamation or the passage of the 13th, 14th, or 15th Amendments or the end of the Civil War.”
The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime.
The Fourteenth Amendment considered one of the most consequential amendments, addresses citizenship rights and equal protection under the law, and was proposed in response to issues related to former slaves. It is one of the most litigated parts of the Constitution, forming the basis for landmark Supreme Court decisions such as Brown v. Board of Education (1954) regarding racial segregation, Roe v. Wade (1973) regarding abortion, and Bush v. Gore (2000).
The Fifteenth Amendment prohibits the federal government and each state from denying a citizen the right to vote based on that citizen’s “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”
Andy Biggs from Maricopa County, east of Phoenix, Arizona, said he would have voted for the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, had Democrats agreed to change the holiday’s name to “Juneteenth National Emancipation Day.” Biggs argued that the democrats “weaponize this bill like they weaponize everything else.”
Andrew Clyde, from a rural district in northeastern Georgia, said he supported a Juneteenth holiday but objected to including “Independence Day” in the name.
Scott DesJarlais, from southern Tennessee, said he believes it is fiscally irresponsible to continue to create “new paid holidays for federal workers while the majority of hard-working private-sector employees get left to pay the bill.”
Paul Gosar, from western Arizona, said “Juneteenth is more debunked Critical Race Theory in action.”
Ronny Jackson, from northern Texas, said, “I support Texas’ Juneteenth holiday and I support all Americans who celebrate it, however, I do not support more days off for federal employees.”
Jackson used to be a federal employee himself when he served as President Trump’s White House physician.
Doug LaMalfa, from northeastern California, and Mike Rogers, from eastern Alabama, did not offer an explanation.
Thomas Massie, from northeastern Kentucky, argued that “naming this day ‘National Independence Day’ would create confusion and push Americans to pick one of those two days as their independence day based on their racial identity.”
Tom McClintock, from Lake Tahoe and Yosemite National Park in California, said, “I don’t believe it’s healthy to reach into the dead past, revive its most malevolent conflicts and reintroduce them into our age.”
Ralph Norman, from South Carolina, said it would cost the federal government more than a billion dollars a year if Juneteenth became a federal holiday. He also said, “If you want to call Juneteenth, for example, Freedom Day or Emancipation Day then fine, but calling it Independence Day” is inappropriate.
Matt Rosendale, from Montana, said, “This isn’t an effort to commemorate emancipation, it’s very clearly tied to the larger hard-left agenda to enshrine the racial history of this country as the prime aspect of our national story.”
Chip Roy, from Austin and San Antonio in Texas, said the official name of the holiday “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.”
Tom Tiffany, from Wisconsin, said House Democrats had “used their majority to balkanize our country and fuel separatism by creating a race-based ‘Independence Day.’”
For the record, I agree with most of the above arguments, especially since—like many of you—I only heard about Juneteenth practically half an hour ago.