Kay Bailey Hutchison urges Juneteenth emancipation holiday
By Melissa Golden, for USA TODAY
Participants sing the National Anthem during a
wreath-laying ceremony to commemorate
Juneteenth at the Emancipation Memorial in Lincoln
Park in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of
Washington, D.C., on June 15
By Melanie Eversley
June 19, 2012
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison introduced a measure Tuesday that would make a national observance out of a little-known date.
The Texas Republican's resolution would designate June 19 as Juneteenth Independence Day, recognizing the June 19, 1865, reading of an order that officially freed the slaves in Texas, a state that had resisted the Emancipation Proclamation two years earlier.
June 19, shortened to the unique date Juneteenth, has become the symbolic anniversary of the freeing of the slaves. The Juneteenth Independence Day observance would be similar to Flag Day or Arbor Day; institutions would not be closed, but the event would have 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 said in an e-mail.
Hutchison's staff, not authorized to be quoted by name, says the legislation is not controversial and they do not expect any opposition.
The bill is another step in a movement to bring Juneteenth into prominence. Forty-one states have passed bills establishing a state observance of Juneteenth, almost half of them since 2007.
On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers landed at Galveston, Texas, to declare that the Civil War had ended and that all enslaved people were free. General Order Number 3, as it's known, was read by Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger. The declaration came more than two years after President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, which he issued Sept. 22, 1862, to take effect Jan. 1, 1863.
Since then, communities across the USA have held marches, readings, plays and festivals to recognize the anniversary. A movement for wider recognition has come from the National Juneteenth Holiday Campaign, launched by Ronald Myers, a medical missionary in the Mississippi Delta.
Myers grew up in Milwaukee, home to one of the most elaborate Juneteenth celebrations in the country. Once he moved to the Delta, he saw similarities between the impoverished lives of the tenant farmers and the past lives of slaves on plantations. This told him it was important to highlight Juneteenth and the nation's slavery history, he said.
"America needs healing from the legacy of enslavement, and America needs to confront constructively its dark history of slavery," says Myers, 56, of Belzoni, Miss. "We can all come together to celebrate freedom."
People in Galveston regard Juneteenth as a national holiday. The 200 or so who annually attend a celebration at Reedy Chapel AME Church, where Granger read General Order Number 3, are a diverse group, says Sharon Gillins, a member of the event's planning committee.
"I think it's a holiday for American people," says Gillins, 61. "In accomplishing the freedom of hundreds of thousands of slaves, we moved one step forward to living up to our Constitution. It's as important as the Fourth of July."