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Lawmakers call for Juneteenth to be a federal holiday

Several states have made Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of U.S. slavery, an official paid holiday, and 47 in total at least recognize it.

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers in the House and Senate have proposed legislation to make Juneteenth a federal holiday.

California Sen. Kamala Harris announced on Friday, which was also Juneteenth, that she and fellow-Democrats Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Tina Smith of Minnesota and Cory Booker of New Jersey would be introducing the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act.

"Juneteenth is about reclaiming our history, rejoicing in the progress we’ve made, and recommitting to the work yet undone," Sen. Booker said in a press release. "Our nation still has a long way to go to reckon with and overcome the dark legacy of slavery and the violence and injustice that has persisted after its end."

Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee introduced a similar bill in the U.S. House of Representatives.  

On Thursday, Republican Texas Sen. John Cornyn announced he would also be introducing bipartisan legislation to make Juneteenth a federal holiday

Forty-seven states commemorate or recognize the holiday celebrated on June 19. Several governors also announced this week that their states will join Texas in making Juneteenth an official paid holiday. Texas has designated Juneteenth as a state holiday since 1980.

Juneteenth, also known as Emancipation Day among other names, commemorates the end of U.S. slavery. The name is a combination of the date, June 19, when a Union general told the last remaining enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Texas, in 1865 of President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation issued two years before.

The push for governments to officially recognize Juneteenth has gained momentum since protests against racial injustice began nationwide last month after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.

"Juneteenth celebrates African American freedom while encouraging self-development and respect for all cultures," Rep. Lee said in a statement. "But it must always serve as a reminder to all that liberty and freedom are the precious birthright of all Americans which must be jealously guarded and preserved for future generations.”  

Credit: AP
Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee speaks during the funeral for George Floyd on Tuesday, June 9, 2020, at The Fountain of Praise church in Houston. (Godofredo A. Vásquez/Houston Chronicle via AP, Pool)

Cornyn said in a statement, "One of the most defining days in our nation's history was when President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, finally freeing all slaves in Confederate territory... It took two and a half years for the slaves in the south to learn that they were free."

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Google, Nike and Target have also joined a growing list of companies around the country that have decided to give their employees time off for Juneteenth. 

The decision comes as businesses balance how to fight racism and support Black employees amid global demonstrations demanding an end to racial injustice and police brutality.

RELATED: Pelosi orders portraits of Confederate speakers removed from US Capitol

Credit: AP
Standing near a statue of Frederick Douglass, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., left, Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of N.Y., center, and Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.,, right, pause during a prayer Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, June 4, 2020, during an event to commemorate the life of George Floyd, who died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)