As demands to make Juneteenth a federal holiday grow, fiscally conservative Republican senators are holding up a bill to solidify the date’s significance in law.
According to the lawmakers, the taxpayers should not be expected to fund an additional paid holiday for government workers.
The debate is raging around a resolution sponsored by Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas. The proposal is gaining the support of Republicans and Democrats alike, according to The Hill.
Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey are two of the well-known Democrats to throw their weight behind the bill.
Republicans such as Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine have also voiced their support.
Cornyn was also behind previous resolutions celebrating the Juneteenth holiday.
Soon I’ll be introducing a bill to make #Juneteenth a federal holiday. Texans have celebrated this end to slavery for 155 years. It’s an opportunity to reflect on how far we’ve come and
a reminder of how far we still have to go. https://t.co/xAgXxMTegu
— Senator John Cornyn (@JohnCornyn) June 18, 2020
“One of the most defining days in our nation’s history was when President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, finally freeing all slaves in Confederate territory,” Cornyn said on the Senate floor last month.
“But slaves in Texas wouldn’t learn this life-altering news for two and a half years,” he said. “It took two and a half years for the slaves in the South to learn that they were free. And that day came on a day we now celebrate as Juneteenth.”
(The Emancipation did not free “all slaves in Confederate territory,” but only those slaves in Confederate territory held by Union forces. Sen. Cornyn was either taking some historical liberties in his statement (as there can be little doubt that the Emancipation Proclamation eventually led to the freeing of the slaves) or perhaps ignorant of the actual timeline of historical events (which would seem to be implied by his use of the word “finally”). All slaves were not freed, even in Union states, until the 13th Amendment was ratified over three years later. — Ed. note)
Although Cornyn’s current resolution has been met with approval from major figures in both political parties, some are questioning the practicality of another paid holiday for government employees.
Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, although supportive of the measure, suggested cutting Columbus Day to make room for Juneteenth.
“I’m just saying let’s replace it with something,” Johnson said, according to the Hill. “I chose Columbus Day just because it’s probably the most lightly celebrated and less disruptive to anybody’s schedule.”
Johnson has been vocal about Juneteenth in the past, signaling that he would likely support turning the June celebration into a tangible, federally recognized holiday.
Considering the history of Juneteenth and what is remembered on the date, it’s shocking that it’s not a federal holiday yet.
If anything, the ending of the barbaric practice of slavery on our soil is something that should be celebrated by every American — not just the black community.
With the state of domestic affairs and the changing tide of public opinion, it looks like Juneteenth will become a recognized holiday sooner rather than later.
While Columbus Day or another holiday on the federal calendar might be removed to make room for the celebration, it’s a small price to pay to remember a turning point in American history.
UPDATE, July 4, 2020: An editorial note was added to this article to clarify a statement by Sen. Cornyn that was not historically accurate.
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