Madison was one of hundreds of communities across the US to celebrate Juneteenth over the weekend. And while the holiday isn’t new, it’s still an uphill battle to get it recognized as one.
All US states and the District of Columbia recognize Juneteenth, the holiday that remembers the date the last enslaved people in the Confederacy learned of their freedom on June 19, 1865.
Many communities, like Madison, observe and commemorate the day with week-long celebrations, parades and the raising of the Juneteenth flag.
And the day was formally declared a federal holiday in June 2021, with a stroke of President Biden’s pen. Federal workers have a paid day off, stock markets and banks are closed, and there’s no delivery of mail.
Wisconsin first recognized Juneteenth in 2009. And all states have established a formal recognition or observance of the holiday. The last two states to formally recognize Juneteenth – that’s Hawaii and North Dakota – did so for the first time last year. The first state in the country to formally recognize Juneteenth was Texas, in 1980.
And the holiday – on the Monday following June 19th – is quickly becoming a paid holiday in states as well. According to a report from the Pew Research Center, fourteen states observed Juneteenth as a paid holiday for the first time this year, bringing the total number of states to recognize Juneteenth as a public holiday to 24.
But Wisconsin is one of dozens of states where Juneteenth is not an official public holiday – and where it’s not a paid holiday on the state level.
Communities within Wisconsin may opt to do so. Juneteenth became a holiday for Dane County employees in 2020 as recognized by the Dane County Board of Supervisors.
Employees are encouraged to make it “a day on, not a day off,” to volunteer, attend celebrations, shop at Black owned businesses, to advance their knowledge of systemic racism and celebrate African-American diversity, culture, history and contributions every day of the year.
Shelia Stubbs represents a part of Madison in the state Assembly. She spoke last week at the Juneteenth flag raising celebration outside the Madison City Council Building.
“I was the one who asked the County Executive to join me with the resolution, to have all county employees off for Juneteenth. I’m going to ask everyone including our county staff, that day off, don’t make it a day on your couch, make it a day that you’re out in our community helping us celebrate,” said Representative Stubbs.
And it became a paid holiday in Madison just last year. City and county workers have the day off, and with that brings a pause in some local government services.
“This year Juneteenth is an official city holiday enactment in 2021. It is a recognition that we as a nation and city celebrate the freedom of our African-American residents and acknowledge the history that some are trying to bury or rewrite. Juneteenth is a time to gather as a community, reflect on the past and look to the future. It is also a vital recognition that none of us are truly free until we are all free,” said Reuben Sanon, Deputy Mayor for the city at last weeks Juneteenth flag-raising.
It could be years until every state adopts Juneteenth as an official holiday.
Before Juneteenth, the last public holiday to be recognized by the federal government is the birthday of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, celebrated in mid-January.
That became a federal holiday in 1983, after being signed into law by President Ronald Reagan. But the holiday took about fourteen years, until 2000, to be recognized in all fifty states.
Photo courtesy / Madoline Plattenberg/WORT News Department