HUNTINGTON (WOWK) – The Huntington City Council is being called into a special meeting Wednesday to consider a proposal to make June 19, also known as “Juneteenth” and “Jubilee Day” and “Freedom Day” a permanent city holiday.
In a late afternoon virtual press conference Mayor Steve Williams and City Council Chairman Mark Bates announced the plan, which is to be presented to the full council at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday evening.
Both Williams and Bates said the genesis of the idea was the current Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of the George Floyd murder in Minneapolis, MN.
“If one person suffers we all suffer,” said Williams “if one person is not to have the ability to sip from the cup of freedom, none of us are able to sip from the cup of freedom.”
He added, “Also, July 4th is something that we all Americans celebrate heartily. Juneteenth, June 19th is a very special day for our African American friends and residents and we want them to know that the city celebrates Juneteenth just like we all celebrate July 4th together.”
If approved by the council the holiday would be celebrated not just in 2020 but in the years to come. Williams says city hall will be closed, there would be holiday pay for city employees and some city services will be impacted, an issue to be worked out in coming days.
Williams adds the legality of the ordinance was run past the City Attorney’s office, which said it would be legal but would require approval of the full city council.
“For many years the City of Huntington was an example of how to not do things,” said Bates “and hopefully we can set the ball going forward, that this is an innovative act and hopefully it will catch fire throughout the state.”
Both men indicated that discussions with other council members show strong support for the measure. Both also, when asked if they were concerned about potential negative feedback to the ordinance responded with a single word – “No”.
It was on June 19, 1865 that Union General Gordon Granger read federal orders in Galveston, Texas that all previously enslaved people in Texas were free. The order came roughly two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation which formally freed slaves in the southern states of the Confederacy.
First celebrated in 1866 the day became more and more popular in the South in the 1920’s and 1930’s and is now wildly celebrated across the nation.
In Charleston, a similar celebration will be held marking “Juneteenth” at the Risen City Church at 1410 4th Avenue on the city’s west side. A dinner followed by music and some short speeches will precede a march from the church at about 6:45 p.m.