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Rep. Frederica Wilson on facing opposition over Juneteenth: ‘We need to be more tolerant’

Rep. Frederica Wilson celebrates after Juneteenth turns into federal holiday
Rep. Frederica Wilson celebrates after Juneteenth turns into federal holiday

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.

President Joe Biden signs the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, in the East Room of the White House, Thursday, June 17, 2021, in Washington. From left, Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif, Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., Opal Lee, Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., obscured, Vice President Kamala Harris, House Majority Whip James Clyburn of S.C., Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Juneteenth National Independence Day marks when Union soldiers, led by Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger, arrived at Galveston, Texas, in 1865 and announced the civil war was over and Black slaves were free.

The Emancipation Proclamation, which ended slavery in the confederate states, took effect on Jan. 1, 1963, during the civil war. The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery on Jan. 31, 1865.

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.”

President Joe Biden speaks with Opal Lee after he signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, in the East Room of the White House, Thursday, June 17, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

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.

Usher speaks with Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., second from left, and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., second from right, as they arrive for an event to mark the passage of the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, in the East Room of the White House, Thursday, June 17, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

“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.

House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., center left, reaches over to Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., joined by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., center, and members of the Congressional Black Caucus as they celebrate the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act that creates a new federal holiday to commemorate June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers brought the news of freedom to enslaved Black people after the Civil War, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, June 17, 2021. It's the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was created in 1983. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Here is the list of 14 Republicans who voted against the bill in the House:

  1. Mike Rogers, of Alabama
  2. Mo Brooks, of Alabama
  3. Andy Biggs, of Arizona
  4. Paul Gosar, of Arizona
  5. Doug LaMalfa, of California
  6. Tom McClintock, of California
  7. Andrew Clyde, of Georgia
  8. Thomas Massie, of Kentucky
  9. Matt Rosendale, of Montana
  10. Ralph Norman, of South Carolina
  11. Scott DesJarlais, of Tennessee
  12. Ronny Jackson, of Texas
  13. Chip Roy, of Texas
  14. Tom Tiffany, of Wisconsin

Watch the historic ceremony (35 min.)

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Historic day: Juneteenth becomes federal holiday
Historic day: Juneteenth becomes federal holiday

Torres contributed to this report from Miami.


About the Authors:

Ben Kennedy is an Emmy Award-winning Washington Bureau Chief for Local 10 News. He has more than a decade of reporting experience nationwide.

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.