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With Republican Backing, Juneteenth Moves Toward National Holiday Status

Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison will introduce a measure on Tuesday that would turn a niche celebration into a national holiday. Under Hutchison’s proposal, June 19th would officially be known as Juneteenth Independence Day, a holiday commemorating the day that slaves in Texas were officially freed on June 19, 1865.

The date came two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, and has come to symbolize the freeing of the slaves nationwide. Observance of Juneteenth would not call for institutions to be closed, but would be closer to the practices of Flag Day and Arbor Day, with their national recognition.

“By observing this day, our nation will honor the role that Juneteenth has played in African American culture in Texas and throughout the country, and it will remind us that, in America, we are all blessed to live in freedom,” Hutchison, a Republican, said in an e-mail.

Members of Hutchison’s staff say the legislation is not expected to face any opposition as it moves forward. Juneteenth is already observed by 41 states, almost half of whom have passed bills establishing it in the last 5 years.

A major part of the movement for the day’s observance comes from the National Juneteenth Holiday Campaign, headed by Mississippi native Ronald Myers. Myers grew up in Milwaukee, where Juneteenth is given one of the most spectacular observances in the country. After moving to the Mississippi Delta, Myers felt that the lives of local farmers could be related to that of the freed slaves.

“America needs healing from the legacy of enslavement, and America needs to confront constructively its dark history of slavery,” says Myers, 56, a medical missionary. “We can all come together to celebrate freedom.”

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