The “Juneteenth National Independence Day Act” passed in the House with 415 votes in favour and 14 votes against — all from Republicans. The next day the Senate unanimously passed the measure and President Biden signed it into law on Thursday afternoon.
The bill recognises as a national public holiday 19 June 1865, the day enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, learned that the Civil War had ended and that they were free from slavery. Over 250,000 people in the state of Texas finally got their freedom, two and a half years after president Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had freed all enslaved African Americans in rebel states. Texas recognised Juneteenth as a holiday in 1980, and was the first state to do so.
“Juneteenth is as significant to African Americans as 4 July is to all Americans,” Sheila Jackson Lee, a Democrat representative from Texas and a lead sponsor of the bill, said in a statement posted on Twitter.
Despite the overall sense of celebration around the declaration of the federal holiday, the 14 Republicans who voted against it raised a number of concerns, including over the name of the holiday and whether it conflates with the 4 July.
The 14 Republicans who voted against the bill are following:
Mo Brooks, Alabama
Andy Biggs, Arizona
Scott DesJarlais, Tennessee
Tom Tiffany, Wisconsin
Doug LaMalfa, California
Tom McClintock, California
Mike Rogers, Alabama
Ralph Norman, South Carolina
Chip Roy, Texas
Paul Gosar, Arizona
Matt Rosendale, Montana
Ronny Jackson, Texas
Thomas Massie, Kentucky
Andrew Clyde, Georgia
Some of them shared their reasons for opposing the holiday. “I fully support creating a day to celebrate the abolition of slavery, a dark portion of our nation’s history,” Mr Massie, the representative from Kentucky, said on the House floor on Wednesday. “However, naming this day ‘National Independence Day’ will create confusion and push Americans to pick one of those two days as their independence day based on their racial identity,” he said.
Mr Massie is also one of the 21 Republicans who voted against awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to all police officers who responded to the 6 January attack on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob. Apart from Mr Massie, Andy Biggs, Andrew Clyde, Chip Roy, Ralph Norman and Paul Gosar have also voted against both the measures.
“Why can’t we name this Emancipation Day, and come together as Americans, and celebrate that day together as Americans: Black and white, all colors, all races, all ethnicities, and then come together on Independence Day, which celebrates the creation of our country throwing off an oppressive government,” he added.
Texas representative Chip Roy also argued over the name of the holiday and said the legislation should have gone through a House committee.
“I believe it’s been often referred to in our history as ‘Jubilee Day’, as ‘Emancipation Day’, as ‘Freedom Day’ — I would be amenable to any of those names,” Mr Roy said in the House. “I don’t believe that the title ‘National Independence Day’ works, and I would prefer that we just have a debate on that.”
Arizona’s Paul Gosar took to Twitter with his statement and said: “Our country is divided, and the cultural and political Marxists are continuing their relentless efforts to divide this country further.
“Juneteenth is more debunked Critical Race Theory in action. I reject racism. I reject the racial division people are promoting. I voted no because this proposed holiday does not bring us together, it tears us apart,” he wrote. “I cannot support efforts that furthers racial divisions in this country. We have one Independence Day, and it applies equally to all people of all races.”
The term “critical race theory” has been increasingly used by Republicans to refer to any conversations about racism and anti-racism.
Montana’s Rosendale also echoed that sentiment, claiming the holiday is an “effort by the left to create a day out of whole cloth to celebrate identity politics as part of its larger efforts to make Critical Race Theory the reigning ideology of our country”.
Ralph Norman of South Carolina posted a thread on Twitter also critiquing the naming of the holiday. He wrote that he’s concerned the federal holiday will “cost the federal government over a billion dollars”.
“Our Independence Day is 4 July. Period. Independence Day celebrates the anniversary of our declared independence from Great Britain, and it’s been that way for 245 years,” Mr Norman wrote. “If you want to call Juneteenth, for example, Freedom Day or Emancipation Day then fine — that’s certainly worth considering. But calling it Independence Day is WHOLLY INAPPROPRIATE.”
Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee said that he voted against the bill because “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”.
Ronny Jackson of Texas wrote: “I support Texas’ Juneteenth holiday and I support all Americans who celebrate it,” he said in a statement on Thursday. “However, I do not support more days off for federal employees.”
Tom McClintock of California wrote in his statement: “I don’t believe it’s healthy to reach into the dead past, revive its most malevolent conflicts and reintroduce them into our age.”
Matt Rosendale said in a statement on Wednesday. “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.”