ZACHARY: State finally recognizes Juneteenth

DomeLight by Jim Zachary 

Juneteenth, in addition to being an official federal holiday, is now recognized as a state holiday, with government offices closed and employees being given a paid day off, and it should be. 

Previously this year, the Georgia General Assembly approved a House Bill that expanded the number of state holidays, giving Gov. Brian Kemp the authority to make  the federal Juneteenth holiday a state holiday in Georgia. 

Juneteenth, of course, commemorates the end of slavery and that is no more important anywhere than it is in Georgia. 

Because June 19 falls on a Sunday this year, state employees will have the day off and state offices will be closed Monday, June 20.

However, some other states have refused to do what Georgia lawmakers have done. 

Unbelievably, some states still recognize Confederate holidays. 

According to a Stateline story published by Pew Charitable Trust, in neighboring Tennessee a proposal to make Juneteenth a paid state holiday failed in the GOP-led legislature there after one state senator told fellow lawmakers he had asked more than 100 people what Juneteenth is, and only two of them knew.

Unbelievable. 

Unconscionable.

In neighboring Florida, Stateline reported, a Juneteenth state holiday bill died after getting bogged down in a debate with some historians arguing the state should, instead, honor Florida’s Emancipation Day, despite June 19 being the official federal holiday. A Union general read the Emancipation Proclamation in Tallahassee on May 20, 1865. 

According to Stateline reporting, in Alabama and Mississippi, the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. and the birthday of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee are a shared paid state holiday and in Alabama the Republican governor declared Juneteenth a state holiday this year while a Juneteenth holiday bill failed in South Carolina, where Confederate Memorial Day is recognized as a state holiday. 

How can anyone justify celebrating insurrection against the United States of America while refusing to celebrate freedom on Juneteenth? 

For anyone who does not know what the day means, take the time to learn. For so many Americans, not understanding the importance of Juneteenth is tantamount to not knowing why we have picnics, outings, fireworks and enjoy the day off on the Fourth of July. 

Georgia lawmakers did the right thing and everyone who has the day off on Monday in recognition of the Sunday holiday should remember this is not just a day off from work.

It is Emancipation Day. 

It is Freedom Day. 

It is Juneteenth. 

Jim Zachary is the editor of The Valdosta Daily Times, CNHI's director of newsroom training and development, deputy national editor and president emeritus of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation. 

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