Despite pressure, states are slow to make Juneteenth a paid holiday

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Recognition of June 19the effective end of slavery in the United States, gained traction after the police killing of George Floyd in 2020. But after an initial flurry of action, the movement to have it recognized as an official holiday in the states United States is largely at a standstill.

Although nearly every state recognizes June 19 in one way or another, many have been slow to do more than issue a proclamation or resolution, although some continue to commemorate the Confederacy.

Lawmakers in Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee and other states did not introduce proposals this year that would have closed state offices and given most of their public employees paid leave for the holidays of June 19.

This trend infuriates black leaders and community organizers who view Juneteenth as a paid holiday, the bare minimum that state officials can do to help honor an often overlooked and ignored part of American history.

“Juneteenth marks a date of major significance in American history. It represents the ways in which black freedom has been delayed,” said Democratic Rep. Anthony Nolan, who is black, while arguing for making Juneteenth a paid holiday in Connecticut on the House floor “And if we delay that, it’s a blow to black people.”

June 19 commemorates when Union soldiers announced freedom to enslaved black people in Galveston, Texas in 1865, two months after the Confederacy surrendered in the Civil War and about 2½ years after the Emancipation Proclamation that freed slaves in the Southern states.

Last year, Congress and President Joe Biden moved quickly to make June 16 a national holiday. It was the first time the federal government had designated a new national holiday since approving Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983. Yet that decision did not result in an automatic adoption of most states.

In Alabama, Republican Governor Kay Ivey issued another proclamation marking Juneteenth a holiday earlier this week after state lawmakers refused to take action on a bill during their legislative session, even after she voiced strong support for making it a holiday permanent in 2021. The state closes for Confederate Memorial Days in April.

Similarly, Republican Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon released a statement last June saying he would work with lawmakers to make it a holiday, but no legislation was tabled in the 2022 session.

In Tennessee, Republican Gov. Bill Lee quietly stashed away enough funds — about $700,000 — to make Juneteenth a state-paid holiday in his initial spending plan for the coming year.

Despite the the bill is gaining ground in the state Senate, GOP legislative leaders argued there was not enough support for the idea even though Tennessee law currently designates special celebrations for Robert E. Lee Day, Confederate Decoration Day and Nathan Bedford Forrest Day.

“I’ve asked many people in my district over the past few days, well over 100 people, if they know what Juneteenth is and only two of them did,” said Republican Sen. Joey Hensley, who is white and voted against the proposal. “I just think we’re putting the cart before the horse by making vacations that people don’t know about.”

In South Carolina, instead of working to approve Juneteenth as a holiday, Senate lawmakers unanimously proposed a bill which would allow state employees to choose any day of departure instead of the Confederate Memorial Day currently listed as paid leave in state law. However, the House sent the bill to committee where it died without a hearing when the legislature adjourned for the session.

At the same time, many of these Republican-led areas have advanced bills limiting what can be taught about systematic racism in classrooms, while offering proposals to expand voting rights and police reform.

This year, nearly 20 states are expected to close state offices and give most of their public employees time off. 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 Assembly and moved to the Senate this month, and cities like Los Angeles have already signed proclamations making Juneteenth official.

“Becoming a holiday will not only give employees a day off, it will also give residents a day to reflect on the future we want, while remembering the inequalities of the past,” said Democratic MP Andrea Harrison. , which sponsored the Juneteenth. legislation in Maryland this year. “It will help us reflect on how far we have come as a nation, how much more we need to do as humanity.”

Attempts to give Juneteenth the same deference as Memorial Day or 4th of July only began to gain traction in 2020, when protests sparked a national push to fight the race after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the deaths of other black people by police officers.

“The George Floyd protests against police brutality raised awareness in Juneteenth because there were people of all races learning about its importance for the first time following a public push to self-educate and learn more about the black history, culture and injustices,” said Tremaine Jasper, a Phoenix resident and business owner who attended June 19 celebrations across Arizona with his family.

Some Arizona cities, including Phoenix, declared June 19 a holiday, paying city workers and closing municipal buildings. However, lawmakers are not currently considering statewide recognition.

“There are so many other important issues we need to address — education, political issues, reparations — before we prioritize making June 19 a statewide holiday,” Jasper said, noting that those who looking to celebrate know where to go.

Jasper, who was born and raised in Arizona, said it would be an “uphill battle” for the state to recognize Juneteenth because there isn’t a large enough black population outside of its biggest cities to make get things done.

Arizona has also been 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.

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Associated Press writer Susan Haigh in Hartford, Connecticut, contributed to this report. Mumphrey reported from Phoenix and is a member of the Associated Press’ Race and Ethnicity team. Follow her on https://twitter.com/cheymumph.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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