Mayor Kenney declares Juneteenth an official Philly city holiday

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By The Philadelphia Tribune

PHILADELPHIA — Mayor Jim Kenney announced Tuesday that he intends to declare Juneteenth an official city holiday.

Juneteenth commemorates the day when enslaved people in Galveston, Texas — the last enslaved Black people in the U.S. — learned they were finally freed after the Civil War ended. That day, June 19, 1865, was more than two months after the end of the war and two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

Black people across the country have celebrated the anniversary for more than 140 years, making it the oldest African-American holiday observance in the U.S.

Philadelphia has had a Juneteenth parade and festival every year for the past four years.

Kenney said in a written statement that his participation in the festival has “deepened [his] appreciation for this important holiday.

“Juneteenth has a unique cultural and historical significance; it symbolizes freedom, represents the triumph of emancipation, and marks a day of reflection. Now more than ever, it’s critically important to acknowledge America’s original sin of slavery — something we as a nation have never atoned for,” Kenney continued. “The only way to dismantle the institutional racism and inequalities that continue to disenfranchise Black Philadelphians is to look critically at how we got here, and make much-needed changes to the governmental systems that allow inequality to persist. This designation of Juneteenth represents our administration’s commitment to reckon with our own role in maintaining racial inequities as well as our understanding of the magnitude of work that lies ahead.”

The move makes Philadelphia one of a growing number of cities, states and corporations recognizing the holiday.

What is Juneteenth? The origin of the holiday and why so many companies are now recognizing it

Forty-seven states, including Pennsylvania, recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday.

And as protests against police brutality and racial injustice have continued these past few weeks and more non-Black Americans are developing awareness of Black culture that extends beyond music and sports, interest in the holiday has grown. The leaders of several major corporations — NFL, Nike, Postmates, Square, Twitter, Square and Vox Media — announced last week that they would recognize the holiday as an official company holiday.

Kenney said in his statement that he consulted with members of the city’s Reconciliation Steering Committee, a group established two weeks ago to lead the path of reconciliation and healing, about Juneteenth. The committee “overwhelmingly” agreed to make Juneteenth a holiday.

Kenney plans to issue an executive order for the year 2020, and take steps to ensure Juneteenth continues to be an official city holiday in the future.

“We are thrilled that Mayor Kenney and the City of Philadelphia have moved to make Juneteenth an official City holiday,” said Michael Rashid, CEO of PA Juneteenth Initiative, Inc., in a written statement.  “Mayor Kenney has always championed diversity. This is another demonstration of his commitment to correct past wrongs and honor the value of citizens whose humanity is often overlooked.”

All city offices will be closed on Friday for the holiday.

School District of Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite announced Tuesday that all district offices and schools also will be closed in recognition of the holiday.

“Juneteenth is a day of incredible significance for African Americans and our entire nation, and we are proud to honor this day together as a District,” Hite wrote in a letter to District employees. A statement from the mayor’s office said the letter also included ideas for honoring Juneteenth, such as coordinating a day of action to combat racism and racial injustice and taking the time to build and deepen relationships with marginalized people.

Trash will not be collected on Friday. Residents who normally have their trash collected on Fridays should put it out at 5 p.m. that day for collection on Saturday.

This story first appeared in The Philadelphia Tribune, a publishing partner of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star.