ATLANTA (AP) — It was too late this year for Georgia state workers to get the new Juneteenth holiday off, even though some federal agencies scheduled to close on Friday to observe the day in advance of the actual June 19 date on Saturday.
But Republican Gov. Brian Kemp will soon face a decision about whether Georgia government agencies will close for Juneteenth next year, marking Black liberation from slavery at the end of the Civil War.
State law fixes 12 paid holidays for public employees, including all federal holidays as of 1984, when Martin Luther King Jr. Day was first observed.
But Kemp has some wiggle room about which days are observed. That's because Georgia observes two unnamed state holidays that used to specifically commemorate Confederate Memorial Day on April 26 and Robert E. Lee’s birthday on Jan 19.
In 2015, after Dylann Roof shot and killed nine people during a bible study at a Black church in Charleston, South Carolina, then-Gov. Nathan Deal stopped designating Lee's Birthday and Confederate Memorial Day as holidays. This year, what is now the unnamed Jan. 19 state holiday will actually be taken on the Friday after Thanksgiving, while the unnamed April 26 state holiday was observed on Good Friday before Easter. Kemp designated this year's days in an Aug. 17, 2020 memo.
“We’ll announce the holiday observances for next year in the coming weeks, like we did last year,” Kemp spokesperson Cody Hall wrote in an email on Friday.
If Kemp uses one of the former Confederate holidays, it wouldn't be the first time one has been used to honor African Americans. Alabama and Mississippi observe Lee's Birthday and Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a combined state holiday.
So far, at least eight states have designated it in law as an official paid state holiday — Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Texas, Virginia and Washington. All but Texas, where the events of the original Juneteenth took place, acted after the killing of George Floyd last year.
Kemp signed a proclamation Wednesday recognizing Juneteenth, but that didn't make it a holiday.
House Bill 444 was introduced this year in the state House by Rep. Miriam Paris of Macon and other Democrats to mandate that Juneteenth be a state holiday, but saw no action. The bill is still alive and could be considered during the 2022 session.
The Georgia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union on Thursday called for Kemp to drop the Columbus Day holiday on Oct. 11 and instead designate Juneteenth, saying Columbus Day commemorates the shameful dispossession and killing of the native peoples of the Americas.
“Columbus Day should be replaced with Juneteenth as a state holiday, as it is far past time for Georgia to celebrate emancipation rather than genocide,” wrote Vasu Abhiraman, senior policy counsel for the ACLU of Georgia Voting Access Project.
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