Understanding Texas State Holidays
Many of our holidays have significance in the cultural heritage of Texas. You will notice that some people who are honored were not Texans, but the issues they stood for affected Texas. Before a day is set aside as a holiday, the state legislature must agree on this remarkable significance. State government offices are usually closed on these days to honor of the occasion. There are many costs associated with declaring a state holiday, so only the most important events, people and dates are chosen.
- Martin Luther King Day (January 15th):
- This day honors the birth of civil rights leader, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. who organized civil disobedience marches during the turbulent 1960s. His ability to motivate the masses with his moving speeches and his encouragement of non-violent protest helped encourage the passage of civil rights legislation. His continued work with civil rights groups such as the NAACP helped move the country toward social change and acceptance. He was assasinated in 1968 shortly after his famous "I have a dream" speech. Rev. King was from Alabama. His wife and children remain active in the civil rights movement.
- Confederate Heroes Day (January 19th):
- This date honors those Confederate soldiers who died during the American Civil War. At issue was who had the right to determine certain laws, such as whether slavery should be abolished. Some states were so upset by the Federal government actions, that they withdrew from the United States and formed their own government, called the Confederacy. The Union believed the federal government had the right to make certain laws that applied to all states, while the Confederacy believed it was up to individual states to make their own decisions. These were southern states that depended on slave labor. Texas joined in the Confederacy. The Union won the Civil War. Hundreds of thousands died during this long battle that sometimes pitted members of the same family against each other.
- Texas Independence Day (March 2nd):
- This holiday honors the day in 1836 when Texas declared itself a free and independent republic. This represents the period when Texas stood as an independent republic with its own flag. Texas is known for its six flags, representing six different periods. Texas was under the rule of Mexico, Spain, France, part of the Conferacy, and the United States. A note of interest: While the Texas Declaration of Independence was being prepared, the Alamo was under siege by Santa Anna and his Mexican army.
- Cesar Chavez Day (March 31st):
- Cesar Chavez formed the National Farm Workers Association (now the United Farm workers of America) in order to improve working conditions and better pay for migrant farm workers who worked long hours in the fields for very low pay. Migrant workers are mostly of Mexican decent and travel all over the country, picking whatever is in season for the farm owners. At the time, they had no permanent homes, slept in overcrowded quarters without bathrooms, electricity, and running water. Sometimes, they slept in the back of the pickup trucks in which they traveled. Because of Cesar Chavez, migrant workers earn better wages and work under improved conditions. His overwhelming concern was always for dignity, justice, and fairness. Cesar Chavez was born on March 31, 1927 and died April 23, 1993.
- San Jacinto Day (April 21st):
- On April 21, 1836, the Texas Revolution came to a victorious conclusion. General Sam Houston, commanding a small force of Texans, defeated a larger Mexican army led by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, the president of Mexico. This 18-minute battle secured independence for Texas and ultimately led to major westward expansion of the United States.
- Emancipation Day (June 19th):
- This day, also called "Juneteenth," commemorates the day in 1862 when Congress approved an act that would secure freedom to all persons within the U.S. Territories. It says, "Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that from and after the passage of this act there shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in any of the Territories of the United States now existing, or which may at any time hereafter be formed or acquired by the United States, otherwise than in punishment of crimes whereof the party shall have been duly convicted". The following year, on January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation which proclaimed that all slaves are free and should be set free.
- Lyndon Baines Johnson's Birthday (August 27):
- This holiday honors the presidency of one of Texas' own, Lyndon Baines Johnson (born August 27, 1908; died January 22, 1973). A long-time legislator, Johnson began his presidency after the assassination of President John Kennedy in 1963. Johnson, known as LBJ, was elected president in 1964 and led the country through difficult days of violent protest over civil rights and the Vietnam War. Johnson is best known for his "Great Society" initiatives such as the War on Poverty, and legislation to aid education, civil rights, health care, and the environment. Johnson's early days as a teacher in low-income, hispanic areas helped shape his lifelong concern for all people. His wife, Lady Bird Johnson, was responsible for many environmental and beautification projects across the nation. His daughters run a foundation that supports social improvement.
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