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Ige signs bill adding Juneteenth to official state calendar

Gov. David Ige (front row, fourth from left), poses with legislators and civil rights advocates during a signing of a bill making Juneteenth an official state holiday. Maui County state lawmakers Rep. Lynn DeCoite (front row, far right) and Sen. Roz Baker (front row, third from right) also joined the signing. Photo courtesy of Hawaii State Legislature

The Maui News

Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of African American enslavement in the U.S., has been added to the official state calendar as a permanent day of reflection, honoring the ancestral legacy and experience of African Americans, Gov. David Ige and lawmakers announced Wednesday.

In a formal ceremony at Washington Place, surrounded by legislators and civil rights advocates, Ige signed Senate Bill 939, which was passed by the Legislature in April.

“With the national events from the summer of 2020 fresh in our collective minds and a renewed call to address the systemic racism that results in racial injustice and inequality, it is important and timely that Hawaii acknowledges the experience of African Americans,” Ige said in a news release Wednesday. “We also recognize the accomplishments of African Americans and their roles in our state’s history.”

Juneteenth, also known as “Emancipation Day” and “Freedom Day,” celebrates the end of slavery when word of President Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation was brought by the Union Army to enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, making them among the last to be freed over two years later on June 19, 1865.

Currently, 48 other states have passed similar laws to make Juneteenth a ceremonial holiday. South Dakota is the only other state that has not officially recognized the holiday.

Motivated by the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, 25-year-old Samantha Neyland, Hawaii’s first-ever African American Miss Hawaii USA, kickstarted the push for state recognition of Juneteenth. She founded Hawaii for Juneteenth, a grassroots coalition comprised of elected officials as well as civil rights and education activists, including: the Anti-Defamation League, ACLU, the Democratic Party of Hawaii, the Honolulu NAACP, the African Americans on Maui Association, the Democratic LGBTQ Caucus, the University of Hawaii and more than 50 others.

“I stand here today, beyond thrilled and proud of the State of Hawaii for choosing to stand in solidarity with our African American community,” Neyland said at the bill signing. “By forever acknowledging and memorializing this monumental day, Juneteenth will henceforth serve as an annual time of reflection. A day to awaken us, to inspire us and to challenge us to look inward as we seek to combat systematic racism and stand against all forms of inequality with the goal of creating a more vibrant and inclusive Hawaii.”

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