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Bill would make Juneteenth an official holiday in Hawaii

The Maui News

A bill designating Juneteenth as an official state holiday in Hawaii is expected to be signed into law by Gov. David Ige in the coming weeks, according to a news release from the state Legislature on Thursday.

Senate Bill 939 passed the full Senate and House vote on Tuesday. If signed into law, it would make Hawaii the 49th state to officially celebrate Juneteenth, which commemorates June 19, 1865 — the end of African American enslavement in the U.S. South Dakota is the only other state that has not officially recognized the holiday, the news release said.

Motivated by the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, Hawaii’s first-ever African American Miss Hawaii USA, Samantha Neyland, launched Hawaii for Juneteenth, a coalition of advocates that successfully lobbied the Legislature to introduce and pass the bill.

The coalition is comprised of elected officials, civil-rights activists and nonprofits, including the African Americans on Maui Association, the Anti-Defamation League, ACLU, the Democratic Party of Hawaii, the Honolulu NAACP, the University of Hawaii and the majority of Maui, Hawaii, Kauai and Honolulu County Council members. The coalition also got a resolution passed in Maui County.

While some believe the passage of the Juneteenth bill is long overdue, the coalition initially faced resistance from some who felt racism isn’t an issue in a state where African Americans make up just 3 percent of the population, the news release said.

“The first phase was all about education,” the 25-year-old Neyland said. “We worked tirelessly towards raising awareness on the history of Juneteenth and its value in today’s climate of social and racial unrest. In the beginning, it was definitely a process explaining to people why racism isn’t just a ‘Mainland problem’ but a Hawaii problem as well.”

Last year, the group approached Sen. Glenn Wakai and Rep. John Mizuno on sponsoring Juneteenth legislation.

“Despite Hawaii’s multi-cultural makeup, the Aloha State is not immune to racism,” Wakai said. “Recognizing Juneteenth allows Hawaii to finally join the rest of the nation in its elusive quest to end racism for all Americans.”

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