Mr. Speaker, I rise today in honor of the 140th anniversary of Juneteenth. This is the oldest known African American celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States. This holiday actually started because of an event in Texas history.

Back on June 19, 1856, Major General Gordon Granger led Northern soldiers into Galveston, Texas, to announce the ending of the War Between the States and to order the release of the last remaining slaves. While President Lincoln's issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation occurred over 2 years earlier, on January 1, 1863, in the midst of the War Between the States, the peculiar institution of slavery, as Southerners referred to it, continued until this historic day. No one in Texas had ever heard that the slaves had been freed until June 19, 1865.

Before Texas was a State, it was a free republic, independent Nation, for 9 years. The Constitution of the Republic of Texas of 1836 expressly forbid the importation of slaves from Africa, but slaves continued to come to Texas from the United States. As a result, slavery spread.

Texas was admitted to the Union in 1845, by just one vote. I might add that some say they wish the vote had gone the other way. Nonetheless, the Lone Star State had some 30,000 slaves. In the census of 1850, 27 percent of the Texas population was slaves. In 1860, right before the war started, it was almost 30 percent.

So on that day in 1865, June 19, thus the phrase, ``Juneteenth,'' Major General Granger dramatically declared when he landed in Galveston, Texas: ``The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves.''

It is interesting to note, Mr. Speaker, that Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation only applied to the Southern States. It took the 13th Amendment to free the slaves in the border States and the rest of the United States.

Now Juneteenth has become not just a Texas holiday but a national event. This Sunday, as thousands of Americans across the Nation celebrate Juneteenth through cultural displays and various educational activities, let us reflect back on this milestone in this ongoing struggle for equality and freedom. Let us remember the committed, courageous and critical men and women who made tremendous sacrifices to secure the end of slavery.

Our Nation's history is littered with struggles for freedom starting with our revolution for independence from the British empire. World history, too, is filled with great labors for liberty, based on gender, race, religion and ethnicity. Just this January, I traveled to Iraq to observe its historic election, in which young and old, men and women, achieved the opportunity to make a free choice.

So amidst intimidation, threats and actual violence, the people of Iraq spoke out against the past oppression and broke off the chains of slavery from Saddam Hussein. There is something down in the soul of each of us that we have the yearning and the God-given desire to be free.

African American freedom fighters throughout countless generations paid a precious price to deliver equality and freedom for their brothers and sisters and their posterity. Overcoming many dangers, toils, and snares, civil rights activists like Texan Barbara Jordan, the first black woman to serve in the United States Congress from the South and Craig Washington, a masterful criminal defense attorney and the first black State senator in the State of Texas. He was an attorney and former Member of the United States House of Representatives. James Farmer, another Texas and principal organizer of the ``Freedom Rides.'' Dred Scott, Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King and some colleagues in this House, as well as many more, helped in the fight for equality in America.

Although we have made significant strides in ensuring that this country fulfills the words of our national anthem, ``land of the free and home of the brave,'' we must always remain ever vigilant and also make the Declaration of Independence a true reality for all peoples.

As that Declaration of Independence says, ``We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.''