Lawmakers could see two legal holidays about the end of slavery; FL’s Confederate holidays still survive

By: - April 22, 2021 3:55 pm

Counterprotesters at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., which left three people dead in 2017. A Florida man has pleaded guilty to making racist threats to try to stop a black candidate from running for office in Charlottesville. Credit: Wikimedia/Erik Nestrand

Following criticism from Black history advocates over commemorating the ending of slavery in Florida, a state lawmaker is now pushing for two non-paid legal holidays to be recognized in the state to celebrate the emancipation of slavery.

Those days are May 20 and June 19, both connected to the freeing of slaves, according to State Sen. Randolph Bracy, who represents part of Orange County.

Florida opponents and historians have said that May 20 is the date representing when slaves were notified of their freedom in Florida.

June 19 is celebrated in the United States, highlighting the day when the last of enslaved African Americans were freed in 1865. Credit: iStock/Getty Images Plus

June 19, called “Juneteenth,” is connected to the Texas history of slavery. And Juneteenth Day recognizes a significant time in history when the remaining enslaved African Americans in the United States were granted freedom in 1865, according to a bill analysis.

Bracy had initially pursued the Juneteenth holiday, but decided to add May 20 following concerns from advocates.

In a strategic move on the Senate floor Wednesday, Bracy filed an amendment that was unanimously approved to attach his “Juneteenth Day” bill, SB 490, to another bill entitled “Victims of Communism Day,” which is HB 1553.

That bill now includes both dates for the legal holidays, May 20 and June 19. And that legislation, HB 1553, was approved 39-0 in the Florida Senate.

Meanwhile, other Democrats have filed legislation to remove Confederate holidays in the state, repeal “a provision relating to the mutilation of, or disrespect for, Confederate flags” and remove “the designations of the Birthdays of Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis and Confederate Memorial Day as legal holidays.”

But nothing came of those bills, and the Legislature is winding down.

In Bracy’s case, the May 20 and June 19 legislation now heads to the full Florida House and if approved, it would go to the office of Gov. Ron DeSantis.

High school students enrolled in a United States government course would also be required to “receive at least 45 minutes of instruction on the significance of ‘Emancipation Day’ as it relates to the state of Florida,” according to the legislation.

Those students would also complete at least 45 minutes of education on “Victims of Communism Day,” covering topics “such as Mao Zedong in China, Joseph Stalin and the Soviet System, Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution.”

“I encourage the House to fully support this legislation so that we can get it to the governor’s desk,” Bracy, a Black Democrat, said in a written statement Wednesday.

“Slavery evokes one of the most painful chapters in our nations history…it’s also a chance to recommit ourselves to the ongoing work of securing liberty and equal rights for all Americans,” he added.

Current law designates June 19 of each year as a day of observance instead of a holiday. And the governor may issue “a proclamation designating June 19 as Juneteenth Day and calling on public officials, schools, private organizations, and all citizens to honor the historic significance of the day,” according to state law.

According to the bill analysis, Texas had become the first state to recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday and now most states either recognize it as a holiday or day of observance.

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Issac Morgan
Issac Morgan

Issac Morgan is a 2009 graduate of Florida A&M University's School of Journalism, and a proud native of Tallahassee. He has covered city council and community events at the Gadsden County Times, worked as a sports news assistant at the Tallahassee Democrat, a communications specialist for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and as a proofreader at the Florida Law Weekly.