“As we do every year, tomorrow Texans will celebrate Juneteenth and the 155th anniversary of the end of slavery in our state,” the state’s senior senator said in a floor speech Thursday.
Cornyn is not the first Texas lawmaker to take similar steps toward celebrating Juneteenth — a day commemorating the emancipation of slaves in Texas on June 19, 1865. On Monday, U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, introduced a resolution aiming to recognize the historical significance of the holiday. Her measure has more than 200 cosponsors.
Cornyn’s remarks on Thursday came after he discussed the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to rule against the Trump administration’s efforts to end the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Earlier this week, a resolution from Cornyn honoring Juneteenth this year passed the U.S. Senate.
“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. “But slaves in Texas wouldn't learn this life-altering news for two and a half years.
“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.”
According to the New York Times, Texas became the first state in 1980 to designate Juneteenth as a holiday, though the recognition is largely symbolic. Since then, 45 other states and the District of Columbia have moved to recognize the day.
The holiday has roots in the long-awaiting moment of emancipation for black people in Texas, who found out more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation that they were free.
Friday, Cornyn said, “is an opportunity to reflect on our history, the mistakes we have made, but yet how far we've come in the fight for equality, and a reminder of just how far we still have to go.”
Calls for Juneteenth to become a federal holiday have gained momentum after the police killing of George Floyd and subsequent protests that have forced the nation to grapple with its history of slavery and racism.
“As the list of black men and women killed by police officers in custody grows, the calls for action are getting louder and louder, as they must, and as they should,” Cornyn said.
“There is a clear and urgent need for leaders at every level to come together, and to deliver the change that we need to deliver, in order to match up with our ideals,” he added.
His own remarks come just one day after he faced a barrage of criticism for comments he made Wednesday over how to overhaul the country’s criminal justice system. During a hearing, Cornyn seemingly questioned whether isolated acts of police misconduct ought to be characterized as signs of systemic racism within all police departments and among police officers.