Durbin Commemorates Juneteenth, Calls Out Filibuster As Tool To Hinder Civil Rights Legislation

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) took to the Senate floor today to commemorate Juneteenth, the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the end of slavery in America. In his speech, Durbin told the story of the Emancipation Proclamation and acknowledged the long legacy of slavery, perpetuated by a contradiction at the center of our nation’s founding principle that all people “are created equal.”

“Halfway through that war, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that all persons held as bondage in the rebellious states “are, and henceforth shall be, free. His courageous action meant little, initially, to most enslaved Americans. Most of the millions held in bondage in states loyal to the Confederacy did not gain their freedom for another two years after the Civil War ended. And for the 250,000 men, women, and children enslaved in the State of Texas, the wait was even longer,” said Durbin. “They learned of their freedom on June 19, 1865—two months after the Civil War ended—when Army Major General Gordon Granger and 2,000 Union troops marched into Galveston, Texas, with orders to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation.”

Durbin went on to discuss the systemic racism and discrimination Black Americans continued to face after the Emancipation Proclamation in forms of “Black Codes” and Jim Crow laws. He also discussed the role of the filibuster in perpetuating racism and discrimination. In the Senate, the filibuster has been used by segregationists to halt legislation proposed to authorize federal investigation and prosecution of lynching, to ban poll taxes, and to prohibit discrimination in housing. Notably, the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1964 were only passed after attempts to filibuster the bills. With legislation to protect voting rights soon to be considered in the Senate, the filibuster is being threatened again to bar communities of color from equal access to the ballot box.

“Today, Senator McConnell is vowing to use the filibuster, if necessary, to protect a flood of new state voting laws that are as racially discriminatory as any we’ve seen since the Voting Rights Act of 1965 barred Jim Crow from American elections,” said Durbin. “Many of our Republican colleagues have vowed to filibuster the For the People Act, a plan to protect voting rights, defend the integrity of our elections, prevent billionaires from buying elections, and strengthen ethics and transparency laws to combat corruption.”

Video of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate floor is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate floor is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate floor is available here for TV Stations.

Durbin is a cosponsor of the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, a Senate-passed bill to recognize June 19 as a national holiday.