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Alabama House votes to recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday — with a twist

State employees must choose between taking the day off for Juneteenth or for Jefferson Davis’ Birthday.

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In an important and muted legislative move, the Alabama House of Representatives passed HB4 on Thursday, marking a pivotal step towards recognizing Juneteenth as an official state holiday. Sponsored by Rep. Juandalynn Givan, D, Birmingham, the bill aims to acknowledge June 19th as a day to celebrate the end of slavery in the United States.

Juneteenth, also known as Emancipation Day and Freedom Day, commemorates June 19, 1865, the day when Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, and announced the end of the Civil War and the abolition of slavery. This date symbolizes freedom and liberation for African Americans, recognized by the federal government as a national holiday since President Joe Biden’s legislation in 2021.

However, the bill introduced in Alabama contains a unique provision: it does not require state offices to close on Juneteenth. Instead, state employees must choose between taking the day off for Juneteenth or for Jefferson Davis’ Birthday, another state holiday observed on the first Monday of June.

This choice underscores Alabama’s complicated historical narrative, where Davis’ birthday is one of three holidays honoring the Confederacy. The others include Confederate Memorial Day in April and Robert E. Lee’s Birthday, which coincidentally falls on the same day as Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January.

The move to establish Juneteenth as a state holiday has been a recurring effort by Alabama Democrats. In the 2023 session, Rep. Laura Hall from Huntsville proposed a measure to add Juneteenth without replacing any existing holidays, while Rep. Chris England from Tuscaloosa suggested that Juneteenth replace Jefferson Davis’ Birthday altogether.

The passage of HB4 reflects a growing recognition of Juneteenth across the United States. According to the Pew Research Center, by 2024, at least 25 states will observe the holiday with closed state offices. Alabama’s approach, however, highlights a continuing debate over how states reconcile their historical commemorations with the evolving national perspective on race and freedom.

The bill now moves to the Alabama Senate for further deliberation. If passed, this legislation will not only add Juneteenth to the list of state holidays but also pose an important question about historical legacy and modern values in Alabama.

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The Alabama Political Reporter is a daily political news site devoted to Alabama politics. We provide accurate, reliable coverage of policy, elections and government.

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