MYNORTHWEST NEWS

Juneteenth bill would ‘acknowledge the atrocity of slavery’

Jan 18, 2021, 1:38 PM | Updated: 5:31 pm

Juneteenth...

Protesters march down 23rd Ave, a historically Black neighborhood, during the Juneteenth Freedom March on June 19, 2020, in Seattle, Washington. Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when a Union general read orders in Galveston, Texas, stating all enslaved people in Texas were free according to federal law. (Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

(Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

If you don’t know what Juneteenth is, you’re not alone. And that’s the problem.

“I thought, when I came to Washington, it was celebrated everywhere. I came to Washington in 1970, and I found that Juneteenth was not celebrated everywhere. People have not heard of it,” explained Democratic Rep. John Lovick during a hearing on the proposal to make Juneteenth a legal state holiday.

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Democratic Rep. Melanie Morgan is the prime sponsor and says the bill, HB 1016, which designates June 19th as a day to honor the emancipation of slaves at the end of the Civil War, is about acknowledging the atrocity of slavery.

“We will remember when Black slaves were released from bondage,” Morgan said during the hearing.

If Juneteenth is made a holiday, state workers would get a paid day off while private employers would be encouraged to follow suit.

There has been criticism of the effort.

“I have come to this committee before, and the cost for the state was a concern last session,” Morgan explained. “Other concerns from the Black community is that Juneteenth doesn’t address the bigger issues of racial inequity we have in our state.”

But Morgan told the committee those concerns are not a reason to vote “no.”

“They’re the reason to vote ‘yes,’” she said. “First, the Black community is right: Juneteenth doesn’t make racial inequity go away. People in my community have struggled for every right to be acknowledged as a human being of their worth, and right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. [The bill] says that Black people deserve to have their histories remembered.”

Morgan says the $7.5 million it would cost the state every two years are about acknowledging the evils of slavery and celebrating the end of it in our country.

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“Are we really going to say that $7.5 million is too much a price to acknowledge the atrocity of slavery?,” Morgan asked the committee.

“Frankly, Mr. Chair, it’s time to close to the real costs of racial injustice, as the data shows that this country made over $3 trillion on the backs of my ancestors,” she added. “So this is just a down payment. The legislature is debating many bills that will cost money, that will make policy changes, and only a fraction address racial inequity. By creating the Juneteenth holiday, we’re taking a step toward racial reconciliation. We are taking a step toward healing.”

“That’s why this bill is really, really necessary,” Morgan said. “It’s not about a holiday. It’s about healing. It’s about reconciliation. It’s about equity.”

Several people testified in support of the proposal, including staff from the Governor’s Office, at the first hearing on the bill last week.

“The recognition of Juneteenth is a step in the right direction in bringing awareness and consciousness to a crucial day in history that finally ended slavery as we know it,” one person stated.

“’Black Lives Matter’ means something more than a slogan on a sign or a T-shirt. We’ve witnessed widespread challenges to dismantle racial disparities fostered by centuries of systemic racism. It’s long overdue that we reconcile with the truth of our nation’s history,” another person told the committee.

“Last year’s attempt at insurrection in the nation’s capital provided a painful reminder of the societal inequities that exist and the critical need and opportunity for all of us to actively work to dismantle systems of oppression and institutionalized racism,” added another.

Representatives from the Governor’s Office made it clear that this was a priority bill for Gov. Jay Inslee, who has already included the dollars for it in his budget proposal as he works to make good on his promise to help put an end to systemic racism in Washington.

Supporters say it would also help educate young people.

“I think it would give our youngsters, our students, the opportunity to learn history, because let’s be real, Black history, frankly, is not taught in schools. You can say what you want, but people have not learned that painful history of what we’ve gone through,” said Rep. Lovick, who was raised in Louisiana, one of seven southern states to secede and form the Confederate States of America in 1861.

“I think having the opportunity to learn that history would mean a lot to our students,” he added.

HB 1016 is scheduled for a committee vote Wednesday.

Follow Hanna Scott on Twitter or email her here

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Juneteenth bill would ‘acknowledge the atrocity of slavery’