Chairwoman Maloney’s Floor Statement in Support of S. 475, the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act
Washington, D.C. (June 16, 2021)—Today, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, the Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, spoke in favor S. 475, the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, while managing the bill on the House Floor. The landmark legislation establishes Juneteenth—which is celebrated on June 19th—as a federal holiday.
Floor Statement of Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney
S. 475, the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act
June 16, 2021
Today, I rise in strong support of S. 475, the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act. I want to thank my good friend and colleague, Sheila Jackson Lee, for introducing the House companion to this bill.
This bill would establish Juneteenth, which is celebrated on June 19th, as a federal holiday.
Our federal holidays are purposefully few in number, and recognize the most important milestones in our country’s history. I cannot think of a more important milestone to commemorate than the end of slavery in the United States.
At the end of the Civil War in 1865, hundreds of thousands of people remained enslaved—despite the Emancipation Proclamation being issued nearly two years earlier.
On June 19th, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger traveled to Galveston, Texas and issued General Order Number 3, which declared that, quote, “all slaves are free.” That’s when 250,000 enslaved individuals in Texas finally learned that they were free. The celebration that they held in Galveston on that day is the basis for Juneteenth celebrations today.
Juneteenth is considered the longest-running African-American holiday marking the end of slavery in the United States, and it has been celebrated across the nation for over 150 years.
First known as Jubilee Day, Juneteenth is marked by food, music, fellowship, and art. These celebrations honor freedom, recognize life, and uplift the complex history and the beautiful culture of the African-American community.
Forty-seven states and the District of Columbia have made Juneteenth a public holiday—including my own state of New York.
While millions of Americans have celebrated this important day for generations, the federal government has failed in its responsibility to recognize its significance.
Today, we can change that.
It is often said that those who do not remember their past are doomed to repeat it. If we want to confront the sins of slavery and move forward towards a more equitable, fair, and free society, it is incumbent upon us to recognize not only our past evils, but the moments of triumph over those evils.
Making Juneteenth a federal holiday is a crucial step in remembering our past, and it will undoubtedly help us build a better future.
I want to thank Senator Ed Markey for his longtime, fearless leadership on this bill. As a result of his hard work, yesterday, the Senate unanimously passed S. 475 to make Juneteenth an official federal holiday. Democrats and Republicans passed it unanimously.
Senator John Cornyn, a conservative Republican from Texas, stated, and I quote, “The freedom of all Americans that Texas celebrates every Juneteenth should be celebrated all across the nation. The passage of this bill represents a big step in our nation’s journey toward equality.”
In this time of increasing partisanship, Senator Cornyn’s strong support speaks to the importance and urgency of this bill.
And I also want to again thank Congresswoman Jackson Lee, who has been advocating for Juneteenth to be a federal holiday for many, many years. This bill would not be possible without her steadfast support.
It is now our responsibility to swiftly pass this bill and finally enshrine this important celebration in national law.
As we strive toward a more perfect Union, it is critical that we acknowledge the national significance of Juneteenth. This day not only honors the past, and celebrates the present, but it offers an opportunity to reflect upon ways to create an even more just society.
I strongly encourage my colleagues to join me in supporting this vitally important bill, and I reserve the balance of my time.