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Juneteenth likely to be city holiday starting next year

CITY HALL – Riding on the current momentum toward racial equity, the Board of Aldermen and Mayor Lyda Krewson have taken steps to establish a paid city holiday on June 19, marking Juneteenth, the day slavery ended. 

Both the mayor and the Board of Aldermen asked the personnel director to start the formal process of making the day a paid city holiday beginning next year. 

The holiday, called Juneteenth, recognizes the date on June 19, 1865, when the end of slavery was announced in Texas. That brought on the “Juneteenth African Freedom Day Celebration.” 

“People say we can never come together for things,” Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed said. “This shows that we can come together.” Reed was one of the sponsors of an alderman resolution calling for the city holiday.

Krewson also joined in, with a proclamation declaring June 19 as “Juneteenth Day” in the city of St. Louis. The mayor also asked the personnel director to start the formal process of making the day a paid city holiday next year. 

“Juneteenth originally celebrated the dismantling of American slavery,” Krewson noted in a statement. “Today, it highlights the continued struggle to dismantle the symbols of systemic racism. Recent events have shown us that we still have work to do to fulfill the hope of Juneteenth and ensure we all enjoy the same freedoms.” 

She continued: “The City of St. Louis recognizes this important holiday as an opportunity for the City to educate residents about African American heritage and honor their lives, sacrifices, and many contributions to this country. Citywide recognition of this day will provide an opportunity to unify all St. Louisans against racism,” Krewson said.

Comptroller Darlene Green moved ahead of the others by announcing that her office would close at 1 p.m. on June 19.  

“Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery, and it is an opportunity for all to recognize that struggle, celebrate what we have achieved and reflect on the work that needs to be done,” Green said. 

After unanimously passing a resolution on Friday calling for the holiday, black and white aldermen together lauded the passage of the measure as a breakthrough in race relations.

“Even though on June 19, 1865, black Americans were so-called free from slavery, we haven’t been free from oppression,” said one of the key sponsors of the resolution, 22nd Ward Alderman Jeffrey Boyd.

Boyd said African Americans didn’t feel that they had the privileges set forth in the Declaration of Independence. But a movement to change things is coming, he said.

And Fifth Ward Alderwoman Tammika Hubbard said, “I am just so proud and honored that as a body, we all can understand the importance of this.”

Throughout the city on Friday, there were celebrations and parades marking the day. Locations included Cherokee Street and Nebraska Avenue, Compton Avenue in the Sixth Ward, the Old Courthouse, Union Boulevard and Natural Bridge Avenue, and Delmar Boulevard and Hamilton Avenue.

The Board of Aldermen’s resolution said that the action was a way to educate city employees and residents about St. Louis’ African American heritage and to honor the sacrifices of black people.

President Abraham Lincoln officially issued the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863. But the Civil War was ongoing, and Southern states did not acknowledge the authority of the order. Many farther-flung territories, such as Texas, didn’t even hear about it.

Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered on April 9, 1865, but the news didn’t reach Texas until June 18, when Union Army Gen. Gordon Granger and 2,000 troops arrived in Galveston, Texas. They went to announce the end of the Civil War and to occupy the state on behalf of the federal government. The next day, Granger read out in public the order freeing those held as slaves.

So Juneteenth is a celebration of the effective legal ending of slavery in the United States.

Jim Merkel

southsidemerkel@gmail.com Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit www.jimmerkelthewriter.com.

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