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The Senate passed the bill earlier this week by unanimous agreement. But in the House, 14 Republicans voted against it, including Rep. Chip Roy of Texas. Roy said Juneteenth deserves to be commemorated, but he objected to the use of “independence” in the holiday’s name.
“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,” he said in a statement.
Added Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., who also voted against the bill: “We have one Independence Day, and it applies equally to all people of all races.”
The sentiment was different in Texas, the first state to make Juneteenth a holiday.
“I’m happy as pink,” said Doug Matthews, 70, and a former city manager of Galveston who has helped coordinate the community’s Juneteenth celebrations since Texas made it a holiday.
He credited the work of state and local leaders with paving the way for this week’s step by Congress.
“I’m also proud that everything started in Galveston,” Matthews said.
Pete Henley, 71, was setting up tables Thursday for a Juneteenth celebration at the Old Central Cultural Center, a Galveston building that once was a segregated Black school. He said the Juneteenth holiday will help promote understanding and unity.
“All holidays have significance, no matter what the occasion or what it’s about, but by it being a federal holiday, it speaks volumes to what the country thinks about that specific day,” said Henley, who studied at the school before it was integrated and is president of the cultural center.
He said his family traces its roots back to enslaved men and women in the Texas city who were among the last to receive word of the Emancipation Proclamation.
“As a country, we really need to be striving toward togetherness more than anything,” Henley said. “If we just learn to love each other, it would be so great.”