Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., was greeted with boos at a Milwaukee celebration for Juneteenth, where members of the crowd swore at him and chanted: "We don't want you here!"
The blistering backlash comes largely in response to Johnson's initial resistance to making Juneteenth – a day that celebrates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans – a federal holiday. Initially, the Wisconsin Republican expressed opposition to a bill that would do so, arguing that it would force American taxpayers to front the cost.
"Last year, a bill was introduced to celebrate Juneteenth by providing an additional paid holiday for 2 million federal employees at a cost of $600 million per year. They attempted to pass the bill without debate or amendment process," Johnson said in a statement.
Last week, however, Johnson conceded, allowing the Senate unanimously to approve the measure.
He explained his turnaround as a matter of political pragmatism. "Although I strongly support celebrating Emancipation, I objected to the cost and lack of debate. While it still seems strange that having taxpayers provide federal employees paid time off is now required to celebrate the end of slavery, it is clear that there is no appetite in Congress to further discuss the matter."
Juneteenth was federalized by a Democratically-controlled Congress and White House just last week to commemorate the official emancipation of enslaved African Americans throughout the U.S. More specifically, it formally marks the day (June 19, 1865) on which it was announced in Galveston, Texas that all enslaved people were told they were free two years after the passage of the Emancipation Proclamation. The holiday has been celebrated in various parts of the U.S. since 1866.
Despite his eventual support of the bill, Johnson was nonetheless met with a "chorus of boos" during a celebratory event for holiday on Saturday in Milwaukee, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Johnson later responded by saying the outcry was "unusual for Wisconsin."
"Most people in Wisconsin say, 'You are in our prayers; we are praying for you,'" he added. "But you got some people here that are just sort of nasty at some points [...] You come down here and try to interact with people and be nice to people. But this isn't very nice, is it?"
One member of the crowd told the Journal Sentinel that "Ron Johnson's politics are not for us."
On Saturday, Johnson said that he would be dedicated to Pastor Jerome Smith, a Milwaukee pastor who started a social services program that secured jobs for hundreds of unemployed residents of Milwaukee. Smith died of coronavirus complications back in April.