Several national holidays have been added to the calendar in the history of our country. The first occurred in November 1789, when President George Washington announced a proclamation for a day of thanksgiving and prayer. In 1870, Congress designated New Years Day, George Washington’s birthday, Independence Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day as the first five federal holidays. Today there are 10 federally recognized public holidays, including Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, which was added in 1983.
In the aftermath of last year’s racial awakening and especially the murder of George Floyd, whose anniversary we just celebrated, a number of companies decided to offer Juneteenth as a paid day off for their employees. Companies as diverse as Nike, Lyft, Best Buy, Adobe, the NFL and JPMorgan Chase – for the first time – have spoken publicly about the importance of the day and have started to recognize it in one way or another. . Many higher education institutions, including the Berklee College of Music, have added Juneteenth as a paid holiday.
This holiday has also been recognized by states, including Texas, site of the first celebration of June 15 in 1979, followed by New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and, last year, Massachusetts.
Boston has the opportunity to bring this symbol of freedom to accompany “The Embrace” – the memorial being built on Boston Common to inspire the values of social justice that King and Coretta Scott King espoused – as part of a new #ALL INCLUSIVE Boston. But Boston could go further.
remember that Evacuation day was established as a Suffolk County holiday in 1938. The county a large Irish American population helped push for observation of evacuation day on March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, to observe the end of the British siege of Boston during the American Revolutionary War. We all embrace now and celebrate the holidays like ours. Patriots Day is another local celebration, first created to commemorate the War of Independence battles in Lexington and Concord, which are commemorated annually on Marathon Monday. We’re used to creating and celebrating unique stories and expanding a group’s narrative into one that we all embrace. The city should now embrace Juneteenth, to create a celebration of emancipation in our “Cradle of Freedom” that will challenge all of us to be fully committed to freedom and fairness in our city and in the Commonwealth. .
June 15 should also be a federal holiday. The road to MLK Day had been in the works for over a decade. After King’s assassination in 1968, US Representative John Conyers of Michigan and US Senator Edward Brooke of Massachusetts, the first black senator elected by the people, introduced a bill to Congress to make King’s birthday A national holiday. After years of opposition, including from Republican Senators Jesse Helms and John Porter East of North Carolina, who sought to block it, President Ronald Reagan finally signed the holiday. Coretta Scott King was appointed to the committee to implement the holiday, and finally, in 2000, 17 years after its approval, King’s Day was observed in all 50 states.
It took years of Coretta Scott King’s tireless leadership, testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee and joint Congressional hearings and mobilizing the nation, to propel King’s birthday into a federal holiday. Let’s not wait 20 years this time.
Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts sponsored legislation to create a new national holiday that not only commemorates the Independence Day of American slaves, but also illuminates the continuing struggle for true black liberation. As King said, the Declaration of Independence was “Sign a promissory note that every American was to inherit. This note was a promise that all men – yes, black men as well as white men – would be guaranteed the inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. “
Ratifying Juneteenth as a federal holiday would provide all citizens, of all races, the opportunity to remember, reflect, learn and celebrate America’s enduring – but unfinished – aspiration to freedom and justice for all.
Imari Paris Jeffries is Executive Director of King Boston. Reverend Liz Walker is Senior Pastor of Roxbury Presbyterian Church. Reverend Jeffrey L. Brown is the founder of My City at Peace.