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Council Leaders Kevin Kelley, Blaine Griffin and Jasmin Santana are thankful for Congress’ actions and President Joe Biden’s signature to create a new federal holiday - the Juneteenth National Independence Day - commemorating the emancipation of those who had been enslaved in the United States.
They are also gratified that Mayor Jackson and his administration drafted an ordinance declaring June 19th an official holiday for city employees. Council members will take up the legislation at its July 14th meeting.
“This is truly an inspirational time for descendants of slaves across our nation, including here in the city of Cleveland,” said Councilman Blaine Griffin. “I look forward to passing legislation as soon as possible to make sure Juneteenth is embedded in the city.
“But we want this to be more than a ceremonial act, but a step towards meaningful and impactful changes we are taking to make Cleveland a more equitable city.”
Council is in summer recess and July 14th is the next scheduled meeting.
“It’s important that while we commemorate this day, we must acknowledge that true equality and equity is still a goal in Cleveland and across the country,” said Council President Kevin Kelley.
And Councilwoman Jasmin Santana noted, “this is just one step. We all need to work towards making Cleveland a more equitable city. But I want to thank the administration for crafting this legislation.”
Mayor Frank Jackson said, “We have drafted legislation to commemorate the holiday and to help ensure we can all use it as a time of reflection, action and an opportunity to enact change.
“Over 150 years ago, Black people were emancipated from slavery on this day,” the mayor continued. “While significant progress has been made since then, there is still quite a bit of work to be done. Institutionalized racism, inequities and disparities still exist. Juneteenth is a reminder of a period of time in our history, and the challenges we still face today.”
Juneteenth – originally called Jubilee Day – celebrates the anniversary of June 19, 1865 when Union Army General Gordon Granger read the announcement of General Order No. 3 throughout the city of Galveston proclaiming freedom for slaves in Texas. General Granger had been sent to Texas to enforce the emancipation of the slaves and nullify all laws passed within the state during the war by Confederate lawmakers.
President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, and it became effective on January 1, 1863, declaring that all enslaved persons in the Confederate States of America in rebellion and not in Union hands were freed. But the war, and slavery, continued on for more than two years.
While Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered on April 9, 1865, the western Army of the Trans-Mississippi did not surrender until June 2nd.
During the Civil War, farmers and other slaveholders had migrated into Texas from eastern states to escape the fighting, and many brought enslaved people with them, greatly increasing the enslaved population. In 1865, there were an estimated 250,000 enslaved people in Texas.
Formerly enslaved people in Galveston celebrated after the announcement. On June 19, 1866, one year after the announcement, freedmen in Texas organized the first of what became the annual celebration of Jubilee Day.
Despite being declared free, in some cities Black people were barred from using public parks because of state-sponsored segregation. Freed people pooled their funds to purchase land to hold their celebrations.
If passed by council and signed by the mayor in July, this will be a paid holiday for city of Cleveland employees starting in 2022.