Juneteenth should be a state holiday

The following editorial was published in The Daily Sun on June 19, 2023. Please subscribe and support our local paper. 

OUR POSITION: Florida needs to do some cleaning up of its holiday calendar and make Juneteenth a state holiday while ditching a few others.

Today is Juneteenth. Not just June 19th, but Juneteenth, a nationally recognized holiday that commemorates the day the last remaining slaves learning of the Emancipation Proclamation.

U.S. President Abraham Lincoln issues that order in 1863, but it took about two years for some of the slaves in Texas and other state to learn they were free.

The holiday has been celebrated in Punta Gorda, however, since a Juneteenth parade was held in 1910. The city, which has a rich African-American heritage, has a history of Black-owned businesses and successful Black businessmen and entrepreneurs.

Punta Gorda, however, was a rarity in America, where acceptance of all races has come reluctantly and won through the blood and tears of those who truly believed all mean are created equal.

The lessons of slavery, segregation and how we treat our neighbors should be tantamount in our society.

Unfortunately concerns about Critical Race Theory, voting reforms and redrawing of congressional districts that at least seem to make it more difficult on people of color to vote have been a stain on Florida — and the nation’s — reputation for equal representation and treatment of all its citizens.

The Juneteenth holiday should give us all a chance to learn and think about our history and our challenges.

Florida does not recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday.

But, the state’s list of legal holidays includes Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Jan. 19 birthday, along with Confederate Memorial Day on April 26 and the June 3 birthday of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

Florida celebrates the freeing of slaves on Emancipation Day, May 20.

Some state lawmakers argue that removing the birthdays of Lee and Davis and the Confederate Memorial Day would be symbolic of progress in racial equality.

Florida Democrats have led the movement to abandon those holidays. Sen. Lauren Book has filed three separate bills to do so. None of her bills made it out of committee. State Rep. Mike Grieco has filed a similar bill in the Florida House, but it too never passed the Legislature,.

But it’s not like Florida is the only state recognizing these confederate-related holidays. At least 10 states from the South recognize at least one confederate holiday — many dating back to the Jim Crow era or even earlier.

We believe it’s past time to make some changes to the state calendar.

The Legislature should start with making Juneteenth a state holiday. Do away with the May 20 Emancipation Day celebration and be consistent with other states and the federal holiday list and put June 19 on the calendar as the day to recognize the end of slavery in the U.S.

So, what about the other holidays recognized in our state?

We say drop them too. And we’re not just trying to be politically correct. History books many of us learned from will espouse the treat military mind and leadership of Lee. He and Davis, however, were leaders in a revolt against the U.S. To have a holiday and recognize them as heroes just does not seem proper.

Let’s work to make these changes. If we are to be the nation, and state, that believes in unity and equality, it just the right thing to do.