AUSTIN, Texas - Thursday was a historic day at the U.S. Capitol as President Joe Biden signed an act proclaiming Juneteenth as a national holiday - the first new federal holiday signed into law since MLK Day in 1983.
Juneteenth has been celebrated for years on June 19 - the day that Union soldiers arrived in Galveston to deliver an order officially ending slavery in Texas, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed.
"It’s historical, we’re excited," said Nelson Linder, president of the Austin chapter of the NAACP. "I think right now we’re in a very divisive time in this country, a lot of racism, a lot of folks that want to go back to the way things were, and this shows that we have a certain amount of enlightenment."
The bill passed the House with a vote of 415 to 14. One of those 14 was U.S. Rep. Chip Roy (R-Austin).
He released this statement regarding the decision:
Today, I voted against S. 475, the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, which would establish a new national holiday called Juneteenth National Independence Day. Juneteenth should be commemorated as the expression of the realization of the end of slavery in the United States - and I commend those who worked for its passage. I could not vote for this bill, however, because the holiday should not be called "Juneteenth National Independence Day" but rather, "Juneteenth National Emancipation [or Freedom or otherwise] Day." This name needlessly divides our nation on a matter that should instead bring us together by creating a separate Independence Day based on the color of one’s skin. We asked Democrats to work with us on the floor to change the name to one that properly recognizes the importance of the day without creating a separate "Independence Day," however, Democrats refused. As a country, we must stop dividing ourselves by race and unite in our common pursuit of the ideals set forth in our Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal.
Linder disagreed with that sentiment.
"It’s not divisive, in fact, it’s a recognition that we’re Americans and we’re finally being included," he said. "We could’ve done this during the Declaration of Independence, but we’re always late when it comes to racism in America."
FOX 7 also talked to people in Roy’s district. One Austinite said she didn’t necessarily agree with the congressman’s decision, but she also was waiting to see the bill’s impact.
"I think that this could be a start, that we could take action locally to ensure that this isn’t just for show and that it actually could be a force of change and progress," said Jinny. "For instance, I think there are a lot of gaps in the education system, and hopefully this will catalyze some kind of change in that regard."
For Linder, the recognition was a long time coming, but he said better late than never. "I think we have some encouragement and finally a little small light shining in the distance."
FOX 7 did reach out to Congressman Roy’s office for comment and did not hear back.