WASHINGTON – Rep. Frederica Wilson witnessed history on Thursday at the White House. The congresswoman from Miami-Dade County did her part to help turn the freedom of Black slaves in the United States into a national day of celebration.
Wilson and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus saw when President Joe Biden signed a bill to turn June 19th into a federal day off to commemorate the emancipation of African American slaves. It happened nearly a century after the Declaration of Independence of 1776.
“This is an important day for African Americans across the world,” said Wilson, who co-sponsored the bill.
Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered the Confederate troops on April 9, 1865. It took two months for the news to make it to Galveston.
“This is a day of ... profound weight and profound power, a day in which we remember the moral stain, the terrible toll that slavery took on the country and continues to take, what I have long called America’s original sin,” Biden said. “At the same time, I also remember the extraordinary capacity to heal, to hope.”
Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, the country’s first African-American vice president, acknowledged Opal Lee, a 94-year-old activist from Fort Worth, Texas, who spent decades advocating for the national holiday. She is known as the Grandmother of Juneteenth.
“We have come far and we have far to go, but today is a day of celebration,” Harris said.
The Senate passed the bill on Tuesday and the House passed it on Wednesday. Wilson said there were 14 Republicans in the House who stood against the bill. There was unanimous consent in the Senate.
“We need to be more tolerant of each other’s adversities because all races come to the table with some sort of struggle, some sort of strife,” Wilson said.
In Texas, New York, Virginia, and Washington, June 19th was already a paid day off for state employees. Federal employees will have Friday off since the 156th Juneteenth falls on a Saturday this year.
Here is the list of 14 Republicans who voted against the bill in the House:
- Mike Rogers, of Alabama
- Mo Brooks, of Alabama
- Andy Biggs, of Arizona
- Paul Gosar, of Arizona
- Doug LaMalfa, of California
- Tom McClintock, of California
- Andrew Clyde, of Georgia
- Thomas Massie, of Kentucky
- Matt Rosendale, of Montana
- Ralph Norman, of South Carolina
- Scott DesJarlais, of Tennessee
- Ronny Jackson, of Texas
- Chip Roy, of Texas
- Tom Tiffany, of Wisconsin
Watch the historic ceremony (35 min.)
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Torres contributed to this report from Miami.