NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Recognition of Juneteenth, the effective end of slavery in the United States, gained prominence after the police killing of George Floyd in 2020. Vacations in the States has largely stalled.
Although almost every state recognizes June 16 in some way, many have been reluctant to do more than issue a proclamation or resolution, though some continue to commemorate the Confederacy.
Lawmakers in Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee and other states this year failed to introduce proposals that would have resulted in the closure of state offices and the paid vacation of most of their public employees for the June 19 holiday.
This trend infuriates black leaders and community organizers who are making June 16 a paid holiday, which is the bare minimum state officials can do to honor an often overlooked and ignored piece of American history.
“June 16 marks a momentous date in American history. It represents the way freedom has been delayed for black people,” said Democratic Rep. Anthony Nolan, who is black, and advocated making June 16 a paid holiday in Connecticut on the House floor. “And if we delay that, it’s a slap in the face to black people.”
June 16 commemorates that Union soldiers broke the news of liberty to enslaved blacks in Galveston, Texas, in 1865, two months after the Confederacy surrendered in the Civil War and some 2 1/2 years after the Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in the Southern states would have.
Last year, Congress and President Joe Biden acted quickly to make June 16 a national holiday. It was the first time since the approval of Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983 that the federal government designated a new national holiday. However, this move did not result in automatic adoption by most states.
In Alabama, Republican Gov. Kay Ivey earlier this week issued another proclamation making June 16 a state holiday after state lawmakers refused to take action on a bill during their term, even after they voted themselves had strongly advocated making it a permanent holiday as early as 2021. The state closes for Confederate Memorial Days in April.
Similarly, Republican Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon issued a statement last June saying he would work with lawmakers to make it a state holiday, but no legislation was tabled during the 2022 session .
In Tennessee, Republican Gov. Bill Lee quietly pocketed enough funds — about $700,000 — to make June 16 a publicly paid holiday in his original spending plan for the coming year.
Although the bill gained traction in the state Senate, GOP legislative leaders claimed there was not enough support for the idea, even though Tennessee law currently allows for special celebrations for Robert E. Lee Day, Confederate Decoration Day, and provides for the Nathan Bedford Forrest Day.
“I’ve asked a lot of people in my district over the past few days, well over 100 people, if they knew what Juneteenth is, and only two of them did,” said Republican Senator Joey Hensley, who is white and opposed to the proposal voted. “I just think we put the cart before the horse and have a vacation that people don’t know about.”
Instead of working to approve June 16 as a holiday, South Carolina Senate lawmakers unanimously introduced a bill that would allow state employees to choose any day to take off instead of Confederate Memorial Day , which is currently enshrined in state law as a paid holiday. However, the House sent the bill to a committee, where it died without a hearing when the Legislature adjourned for session.
At the same time, many of these Republican-led areas have introduced legislation that limits what can be taught about systemic racism in classrooms, while making proposals to expand voting rights and police reform.
This year, nearly 20 states are expected to close state offices and lay off most of their public employees. At least six states have officially adopted the holiday in recent months, including Connecticut, Colorado, Georgia, Maryland, South Dakota, Utah and Washington. A bill introduced in California passed the convention and went to the Senate this month, and individual cities like Los Angeles have already signed proclamations making June 16 official.
“Becoming a state holiday not only gives staff a day off, but also gives residents a day to reflect on the future we want while remembering the injustices of the past,” said Democratic MP Andrea Harrison , which sponsored the June 16 legislature in Maryland this year. “It will help us reflect on how far we have come as a nation and how much more we need to do as a human race.”
Attempts to pay the same homage to June 16 as Memorial Day or the Fourth of July only gained traction in 2020, when protests following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the deaths of other black people at the hands of the police spread nationwide Advance triggered to address the race officers.
“The protests by George Floyd against police brutality brought June 16 to the fore as people of all races learned of its importance for the first time after a public attempt to educate themselves and learn more about history, culture and black injustices,” said Tremaine Jasper. a Phoenix resident and business owner who took his family to participate in June 16th celebrations across Arizona.
Some Arizona cities, including Phoenix, have declared June 16 an official holiday, paying city employees and closing municipal buildings. However, lawmakers are not currently considering statewide recognition.
“There are so many other important issues that we need to address — education, political issues, reparations — before we make June 16 a national holiday,” Jasper said, noting that those who want to celebrate know where to go have to go.
Jasper, who was born and raised in Arizona, said getting the state to recognize June 16 will be an “uphill battle” because there isn’t a large enough Black population outside of the largest cities to make the push .
Arizona was also slow to recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day, only doing so in 1992. It was one of the last states to officially recognize the civil rights leader.
Associated Press writer Susan Haigh of Hartford, Connecticut contributed to this report. Mumphrey reported from Phoenix and is a member of The Associated Press’s Race and Ethnicity team. Follow her up https://twitter.com/cheymumph.
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