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Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee introduces bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday

H.R. 7232 is called the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act.

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, is introducing a bill that would make Juneteenth a federal holiday.

June 19, 1865, was the day when slaves in Galveston, Texas, learned the Civil War was over and they were free. The news came more than two years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. The annual celebration on June 19 later became known as Juneteenth, which is now celebrated all over the U.S.

"Juneteenth celebrates African American freedom while encouraging self-development and respect for all cultures," Lee said in a statement released Thursday. "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.” 

RELATED: How to celebrate Juneteenth in Houston, Galveston and other nearby cities

The bill -- H.R. 7232, or the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act -- is co-sponsored by more than 80 other members of Congress, she said.

On Monday, Lee introduced a resolution aiming to recognize the historical significance of the holiday. Her measure has more than 200 cosponsors.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn on Thursday afternoon announced that he will also introduce bipartisan legislation to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. A resolution from Cornyn honoring Juneteenth this year passed the U.S. Senate earlier this week.

“Juneteenth remains the oldest known celebration of slavery's demise," Lee said in the statement. "It commemorates freedom while acknowledging the sacrifices and contributions made by courageous African Americans towards making our great nation the more conscious and accepting country that it has become. It was only after that day in 1865, on the heels of the most devastating conflict in our country's history, in the aftermath of a civil war that pitted brother against brother, neighbor against neighbor and threatened to tear the fabric of our union apart forever, that America truly became the land of the free and the home of the brave.

RELATED: The history of Juneteenth: 15 things you may not know

In 1979, former Texas Rep. Al Edwards introduced a bill that made Juneteenth a Texas state holiday. 

"In recent years, a number of National Juneteenth Organizations have arisen to take their place alongside older organizations—all with the mission to promote and cultivate knowledge and appreciation of African American history and culture," Lee said.

Lee said Juneteenth National Independence Day will be only the second national holiday "honoring the plight of African slaves and the contributions of African Americans in the creation of this great nation."

This story contains additional reporting from the Texas Tribune.

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