WINCHESTER — Members of the local NAACP chapter and other area residents urged the Frederick County Board of Supervisors on Wednesday night to reconsider its decision and add Juneteenth to the list of paid holidays for county staff.
Juneteenth celebrates the end of slavery in the United States.
Last year, the Virginia General Assembly designated Juneteenth an official state holiday, and Gov. Ralph Northam declared June 19 a paid holiday for state employees. The Frederick County Human Resources Committee had recommended that the Juneteenth holiday be recognized and that it be referred to as Emancipation Day in Frederick County, with county employees getting holiday pay.
During the board’s Dec. 9 meeting, Red Bud Supervisor Blaine Dunn brought forth the motion on the committee’s behalf, but said that he would not support it. The motion died when no one seconded the motion. Dunn said afterward that he objected to Juneteenth because he considered it a Texas holiday specifically dealing with the emancipation of slaves in Texas — not all slaves nationwide.
At Wednesday’s meeting, several people criticized the board’s decision. Stephens City resident Tina Stevens said the board was “diminishing the experiences of Black residents” and said that she and other people of color have chosen for a long time to celebrate emancipation on Juneteenth.
“If we are the United States of America, this is an important part in American history and it should not only be recognized, it should be celebrated,” Stevens said. “My question is, how can we truly celebrate July 4 as the only Independence Day when hundreds and thousands of people were still enslaved? How is it that an all-white board has decided that a major day in American history isn’t worth celebrating in Frederick County? If your ancestors were emancipated on this day in history, one assumes you would feel compelled to acknowledge it with a celebration, speeches, songs and more.”
La Tasha Do’zia, a Stephens City resident and member of the local NAACP, said the board’s decision was “incredibly disheartening”
“Yes, Juneteenth is a celebration of slaves freed in Galveston, Texas, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was delivered,” Do’zia said. “However, we as African American people celebrate with our ancestors their resilience, their strength and their power. Although you may not deem it as an appropriate county holiday, your constituents, particularly those of African descent, feel strongly about the recognition locally. Especially since it is recognized by the governor of Virginia. Lack of conversation beyond your seats with your constituents about issues that concern them, acknowledges them and or celebrates them proves that the power of your seats are more important than your constituents of color.”
She said Juneteenth could be used as an educational tool in the community.
“... What you may see as a trend due to the past summer’s events, we as a people have been celebrating since 1865,” Do’zia said. “This is not a trend. It’s a moment to start shifting from uplifting the rebel Confederacy to empowering, celebrating and creating safe spaces for African American people in our country, our state and especially our locality.”
Rebecca Lewis, chair of the political action committee of NAACP and a resident of the Back Creek District, explained the importance of the holiday. Even though the Emancipation Proclamation had been passed two-and-a-half years earlier in 1862, the slaves in Confederate Texas were still not free. Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger led Union soldiers into Galveston, Texas, and proclaimed their freedom from slavery.
“The libertation Juneteenth commemorates is cause for celebration,” Lewis said. “But it also reminds of us of how equality can be delayed.”
Currently, 47 states and the District of Columbia honor Juneteenth as a holiday or day of recognition.
Dunn previously suggested that if county was to celebrate the emancipation of slaves, it should observe the anniversary of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which abolished slavery and involuntary servitude. He said the state should observe emancipation either on Dec. 6, the date the 13th Amendment was ratified, or on Dec. 18, the date the 13th Amendment was proclaimed.
But audience members made clear that Juneteenth was their preferred choice.
Stonewall Supervisor Judith McCann-Slaughter and Opequon Supervisor Bob Wells said on Dec. 9 that they were under the impression that the county was already celebrating Juneteenth, as the county’s human resources policy regarding holidays says the county shall observe federal and state holidays and other such holidays as may be prescribed by the Board of Supervisors. They said they thought the vote on Dec. 9 was whether to rename Juneteenth as Emancipation Day — not whether to recognize the holiday itself — and that they didn’t vote on Dec. 9 because they didn’t think Juneteenth should be renamed.
But Gainesboro Supervisor J. Douglas McCarthy said December’s vote was, in fact, about whether to make Juneteenth a paid holiday for county employees.
“The motion wasn’t to change the name of Juneteenth,” McCarthy said. “The motion came from the committee to acknowledge June 19th as a paid holiday for public employees. I’m on the human resources committee.”
McCarthy said in December the the human resources committee had some concerns about the county having too many paid holidays and that Frederick County residents wouldn’t know what Juneteenth was.
“A lot of people in Virginia don’t know what Juneteenth means or what date it is,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy said he had a productive meeting this week with Michael Faison, the new president of the local NAACP chapter. He said they discussed Juneteenth and whether it should be a paid county holiday. He said they are working on scheduling a town hall meeting to get public input.
“We may not all come to a conclusion that everybody is happy with,” McCarthy said. “But I think, at least as far of all of us here on this board, we all believe that celebrating the end of slavery is a worthy thing to do and we need to find a way to it.”