After the murder of George Floyd and protests that followed, there were calls to recognize the importance of Juneteeth officially. President Biden signed a bill in June of 2021, making Juneteenth the first national holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983. However, like MLK day, some states aren’t in a hurry to recognize the holiday. Alabama, Mississippi, and South Carolina have not advanced state legislation to ensure state offices are closed, to name a few.
“Juneteenth marks the date of major significance in American history. It represents the ways in which freedom for Black people have been delayed,” said Democratic Rep. Anthony Nolan, who is Black, while arguing in favor of making Juneteenth a paid holiday in Connecticut on the House floor. “And if we delay this, it’s a smack in the face to Black folks.”
Some southern states like Tennessee have claimed “insufficient support” to make a move. However, they still recognize holidays routed in the Confederacy, such as Robert E. Lee Day and Confederate Decoration Day.
“I asked many people in my district over the last few days, well over 100 people, if they knew what Juneteenth was and only two of them knew,” said Republican Sen. Joey Hensley, who is white and voted against the proposal. “I just think we’re putting the cart before the horse making a holiday that people don’t know about.”
While Juneteeth may provide a day of rest for some, representatives like Maryland delegate Andrea Harrison do not want the message of the overall day to be lost. This is considering the avalanche of laws passed in Republican-led states that have altered how children can be taught about race and history.
“Becoming a state holiday will not merely give employees a day off, it will also give residents a day to think about the future that we want, while remembering the inequities of the past,” said Democratic Del. Andrea Harrison, who sponsored the Juneteenth legislation in Maryland this year. “It will help us to reflect how far we’ve come as a nation, how much more we need to do as humankind.”