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Commemorating Freedom: Juneteenth officially recognized as a holiday in Milwaukee County

Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley and County Board Chairwoman Marcelia Nicholson announced on June 15 that Milwaukee County employees will have a floating holiday on June 19 to mark Juneteenth Day and the end slavery in America.

Executive Order #20-15 is part of Milwaukee County’s efforts to achieve racial equity and be the healthiest county in Wisconsin. The County has recognized that Milwaukee and the nation are presently facing two public health emergencies, one acute emergency caused by COVID-19 and one deep-rooted emergency caused by racism.

“Beginning this year, Milwaukee County will officially recognize this important day in American history,” said County Executive Crowley. “Juneteenth is a day to celebrate the rich history and culture of the African American community. It is also a day to appreciate the long struggle for civil rights that Black people in America have faced for centuries. I am hopeful that our employees will be able to take June 19 as a day ‘on’ not a day off in order to fully support Black lives, liberation, and the vision of Milwaukee County to achieve racial equity and become the healthiest county in Wisconsin.”

Crowley is the first African American elected to the position of County Executive, and is a reflection of the growing public demand for diverse leadership.

“As America begins, again, to open our hearts and minds to fully accept and seek to redress centuries of oppression and systemic racism, Milwaukee County is taking a step forward to formally acknowledge and celebrate Black Independence Day and all that it symbolizes,” said County Board Chairwoman Nicholson. “One day, perhaps all Americans will sing the Black National Anthem together at the start of sporting events and other gatherings, and celebrate freedom and equity for ALL Americans, the true promise of these United States.”

Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the end of enslavement of Black people by white people in the United States. On June 19, 1865, two-and-a-half years after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, Union soldiers arrived in Texas to read and enforce the proclamation that ended slavery. Starting in 1866, Juneteenth has been celebrated as the end of slavery in the United States.

Milwaukee County has been working toward equity and shifting its own institutional power to demonstrate leadership in dismantling white supremacy and racist policies and practices. Led by Northcott Neighborhood House and the Juneteenth Day Executive Committee, Milwaukee has one of the longest-running Juneteenth Day celebrations in the country. Drawing thousands from across Milwaukee since 1971, the Juneteenth Celebration is in its 49th year. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the city’s Juneteenth Day Parade and Street Festival were cancelled this year.

Milwaukee County’s Juneteenth measure has been implemented by Administrative Order to ensure employees can utilize the floating holiday in 2020. Moving forward, a resolution will be introduced to the County Board of Supervisors for the July cycle so that Juneteenth can become a permanent floating holiday. The measure has the support of the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors’ Black Caucus.

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