TURES COLUMN: Does your state celebrate Juneteenth?

Published 10:30 am Thursday, June 22, 2023

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Ever since Juneteenth became the newest a Federal Holiday in 2021, there’s been an increased focus on its celebration across the country. While just about every state has issued a supportive proclamation, some going back decades, only a little more than half of all states have made it a paid holiday. 

And there’s some debate about what it means in America.

Juneteenth gets its origins from Galveston, Texas after the Civil War, when General Gordon Granger arrived with an official order that the slaves were to be freed, the final exclamation mark on the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment.

“This year, at least 28 states and the District of Columbia will legally recognize Juneteenth as a public holiday – meaning state government offices are closed and state workers have a paid day off – according to a Pew Research Center analysis of state human resources websites, state legislation and news articles,” writes Katherine Schaeffer with the Pew Research Center.

As to who celebrates it as an official paid state holiday, you might be surprised by the answer. Among those labeling themselves “the slaveholding states” in many of their secession documents (which history books call the Confederate States of America), you’ll find Texas, Louisiana, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia and Virginia celebrating the holiday, while North Carolina allows some state government workers to take a day off, or take it as a floating holiday, just as California and Pennsylvania do. 

Border states from the Civil War, like Missouri, Maryland and Delaware, celebrate Juneteenth, allowing a day off for all state government workers.

For Arkansas, Mississippi, South Carolina and Florida, it’s not a paid state holiday. Ditto the border state of Kentucky.

You can also find some states who fought on the side of the North, like Iowa, Indiana, Wisconsin, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Kansas who don’t make it a paid state holiday.

But other states that weren’t part of the Civil War, like Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Nebraska, Idaho, New Mexico, and South Dakota, which do celebrate Juneteenth.

So there’s a mix of red states and blue states that make it an official paid state holiday, and those that don’t. As a colleague of mine from the Business Department at LaGrange College said “that’s a good thing. It’s an American holiday, not a black holiday or a white holiday.” He’s pretty supportive of the national government and state and local governments celebrating it.

But not all are pleased.

Crystal Paul wrote a thought-provoking piece in the Seattle Times, which noted some nostalgia for how Juneteenth used to be. 

“Part of me is hopeful that Juneteenth will inspire non-Black people to learn more about Black culture and examine their own anti-Black biases before they join the party. Another part of me fears our holiday will forever be changed from a loud, carefree and Black-as-hell party in the streets to another place where we have to consider the non-Black gaze or teach others how not to hate us or patiently guide them on their journey toward undoing anti-Black racism.”

Perhaps we’ll come to honor Juneteenth as a celebration, where it can be seen as an American holiday, a triumph over evil, like V-E Day or V-J Day, and hopefully a chance to party. Given that more than half of the states of all different political backgrounds can come together on this, there’s optimism for future celebrations.