Councilman calls for making Juneteenth a legal holiday

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By Alysha Conner, Contributing Writer

SOUTH LOS ANGELES — If City Councilman Curren Price has his way, the city of Los Angeles will celebrate Juneteenth next year as an official city holiday.

Price introduced a motion at the July 29 City Council meeting calling for the city to establish June 19 as the Juneteenth holiday, known in some places as Black Independence Day.

Juneteenth marks the day, June 19, 1865, when slaves in Texas first learned that they had been freed by President Abraham Lincoln, who issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing slaves in Confederate states, on Jan. 1, 1863.

“This is a teaching moment, one to raise awareness and share our values and traditions with the world,” Price said when asked about the motion. “This is a moment to honor our ancestors who were subjected to harsh and inhumane treatment as they were forced to perform back-breaking labor, deprived of an education, and were subjected to countless acts of violence against them.

“Juneteenth represents not only the ending of slavery but the beginning of Black people knocking down barriers,” Price added. “At this point in our culture, we need to do everything in our power to educate one another about things left out of the history books, demonstrate inclusion, and celebrate our progress keeping in mind that we have a lot more work to do.”

According to Price, the historical importance of acknowledging Juneteenth “speaks to the current state of civil rights we are living in this very day.”

The councilman’s call comes amid the nation’s uproar for racial equity and police reform, as a result of the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black Americans.

“Our culture has come far but not far enough,” Price said. “While we have celebrated underground for generations, this is a moment we must seize. It is a prime opportunity to be able to share our triumphs, hearts, and our culture with the world front and center.”

In 2003, the California State Legislature officially recognized Juneteenth as a ceremonial holiday, but not a paid state holiday.

Price’s motion calls for the city’s chief legislative analyst to lay forth a budget that would make Juneteenth a paid city holiday.

Price also mentioned enlisting help from the city’s new Civil and Human Rights Commission and the city administrative officer to develop options for the initiative.

In addition to Price efforts, other elected officials have also called for more recognition of the symbolic “Emancipation Day.”

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California announced in June that she would propose a bill that declares Juneteenth a national holiday.

Her Senate colleagues Cory Booker, Tina Smith and Ed Markey also are involved in Washington.

“Juneteenth is a day to remember the millions who died from enslavement in America, and those who survived and fought to end it,” Harris said. “It needs to be a national holiday. We’re introducing a bill to do just that.”

The bill would make Juneteenth the first addition to the list of U.S. federal holidays since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was approved in 1983.

For years, resolutions have been passed by congressional leaders in both the House and Senate to recognize Juneteenth at a local level.

But legislation to declare it a national holiday has lagged.

“Making Juneteenth a federal holiday represents a step forward in the journey of healing America is still taking,” said Booker, a senator from New Jersey. “Our nation still has a long way to go to reckon with and overcome the dark legacy of slavery and the violence and injustice that has persisted after its end.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom suggested in June that Juneteenth could become an official state holiday, according to ABC 7.

Newsom said he had discussions with both the Legislative Black Caucus and state employee groups about the matter.

“I’m certainly open-minded to this and very much engaged in conversations with leadership about doing the same,” Newsom said in June.

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, several Juneteenth celebrations were held in the area.

In Inglewood, three Black women joined forces to host Inglewood’s first Juneteenth car parade, which featured hundreds of cars roaming the streets of Inglewood, working their way to View Park, Windsor Hills and ending at Leimert Park.

The hosts plan to continue the Juneteenth event annually.

“Juneteenth being recognized as a national holiday is long overdue, ” said Ricole Carillo, co-founder of the Juneteenth car parade. “We cannot afford any more delays in recognizing our freedom and existence. But I won’t let that stop us from celebrating. It only motivates me to embrace our culture more, especially on that day.”

There is no timetable on Price’s proposal to make its way through City Hall.

His motion was referred to the Personnel and Animal Welfare Committee, but no date has been set for a hearing on the motion.

“This moment in time clearly shows us that standing united uplifts all of our voices, and we are indeed stronger together,” Price said.

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