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Floor Speech on S. 475, the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act

Contact: Speaker’s Press Office,

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Washington, D.C. – Speaker Nancy Pelosi delivered remarks on the Floor of the House of Representatives in support of S. 475, the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act.  Below are the Speaker’s remarks:

Speaker Pelosi.  Thank you, Madam Speaker, for the recognition.  I commend our distinguished Chair of the COR Committee in the Congress for bringing this important legislation to the Floor within 24 hours of it passing the Senate.  It’s a pretty exciting – an historic day.  And I thank you, Madam Speaker, for your sponsorship of this legislation for such a time.  

Madam Speaker, I rise to join my colleagues in the spirit of joy and pride as the Congress passes this legislation to declare Juneteenth a national holiday.  With this step, Congress is ensuring that one of the most momentous events in our history, which has been celebrated by millions, particularly Black Americans, for 150 years now is officially recognized, that it is enshrined in our history books and it takes its place of honor in our nation.

Juneteenth is a beautiful and proud celebration of freedom for Black Americans.  It marks the day, two years after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, when Major General Gordon Granger and Union soldiers delivered the news of liberation in Galveston, Texas.  Not far from the district you represent, Madam Speaker.  That day, General Granger declared that all are free with the absolute equality of rights and rights of property.  

And I know that Texas’s place in our – special place in our history is cherished by its Delegation, especially, as I mentioned you, Madam Speaker, Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, representing Houston.  Thank you for being the author of the legislation, the House companion of S. 475.  Thank you to the Congressional Black Caucus, your distinguished Chair, Congresswoman Joyce Beatty of Ohio, to the Texas Delegation and all Members who have worked for this official recognition over many years, including Representative Danny Davis.  Thank you also to Oversight Committee Chairwoman Maloney.  Thank you, Madam Chair.  We salute Senators Ed Markey and John Cornyn, leading in the Senate, and congratulate them on yesterday’s passage of S. 475 without objection.  And let me salute the activists and leaders who carried this fight to this day, including the late Dr. Ronald Myers, who for decades until his passing – Doc Myers – led the campaign to make Juneteenth a national day of observance.  

Over the past century and half, Juneteenth has evolved into a day of not only celebration, but of reflection.  This day reminds us of a history much stained by brutality and injustice and reminds us of our responsibility to build a future of progress for all, honoring the ideal of equality that is America’s heritage and America’s hope.  I feel very honored to be here with the Black Caucus, as I mentioned already, to speak on behalf of this legislation.  I thank them for making this day possible.  I also had the honor of traveling [with] them to Ghana almost two years ago at the end of July as we observed the 400th anniversary of the first slaves coming to America.  John Lewis was with us on that trip to go to the Door of No Return, which is now the Door of Return, as it urges people to come back.  

Four hundred and almost two years ago, the first slaves were pushed from Africa into dungeons, which were deadly, onto slave ships, which were death ships, to come across the ocean to a place where they would be enslaved for hundreds of years.  It challenges the conscience of the world and certainly to America to even think about what happened to people in our country over that period of time.  But to be there with the Black Caucus was a very, very special honor.  And to see the connection between that Door of No Return in Ghana and the connection to our Members of Congress on the Floor of this House today serving with such dignity and pride.  

We know that the fight against racism and toward equality has far to go, but it is a fight that continues with a renewed sense of urgency all the time, now sparked by the murder of George Floyd and many others.  We salute Karen Bass as she continues negotiations on the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which now must become law.

As we fight for its passage, the Democratic House remains committed to real, effective action to advance justice, fairness and opportunity for all.  That is the purpose of our Black Caucus in this Congress.  The Black Caucus is the conscience of the House of Representatives.  

And with that I urge a bipartisan vote on this important legislation and thank all Members who have led this effort, which strengthens America.  

I hope we can have, again, a strong bipartisan vote and yield back the balance of my time.

Thank you, Madam Speaker. 

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