By Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times
If you were caught off guard by the closures of banks, the post office, and county offices on Monday, you weren’t alone. Many folks were not expecting the closures related to our newest federal holiday, Juneteenth.
But while Juneteenth may be a new federal holiday, it’s an old celebration in black communities, particularly in Texas and other areas of the south. The holiday was recognized by Texas as far back as 1980, and was first recognized by the U.S. government in 2021 after President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law. The move, also supported by former President Donald Trump during his 2020 campaign, has left some outside Texas and other black communities scratching their heads.
So, what exactly is Juneteenth? Let’s start with what it isn’t – Juneteenth isn’t a day to celebrate black history and culture. That’s certainly a part of the celebrations that take place on that day, but the holiday isn’t a one-day federally recognized distillation of Black History Month. It celebrates a specific date – June 19, 1865, nearly three years after the Emancipation Proclamation – when news of their freedom finally reached enslaved people in Texas, on the far margins of the former Confederacy.
News travelling as it does, even though the official proclamation was announced in Galveston on June 19, it would be some time before the news spread to all enslaved people in the state. Beginning with celebrations in that city, Juneteenth (a portmanteau of June and nineteenth) soon spread throughout the state, the South, and black communities across the nation.
Following the federal recognition of the holiday, Carter County moved last year to recognize it on a county level, giving county employees a paid day off for the holiday for that year only while they waited for the state of Kentucky to codify paid time off for state employees.
While the state recognizes the holiday, and the legislature hoped to pass a measure giving state employees the day off with pay before adjourning their last session, they failed to do so.
Carter County fiscal court, however, moved to make their recognition of the holiday permanent this year rather than waiting for the state to act first.
That’s why, if you needed to visit a county office this Monday you found they – like the banks and the post office – were not open.
It’s new for some of us. It’s going to take some getting used to. But it’s a marvelous holiday, worth taking the time to learn about, and celebrating.
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