Mayor Cavalier Johnson signed Common Council File number 220475 on September 26 that formally established Juneteenth Day as an official holiday for the City of Milwaukee.

With the ordinance, Milwaukee joined the federal government and about half the states in formally marking June 19 as a holiday honoring of the end of slavery in the United States.

“As Americans, we have a dark history. The original sin of this country was slavery. And so many people, their families, and their community, have endured the pains and the traumas for generations of that vile institution of slavery,” said Mayor Johnson. “So it is important for us to recognize what has happened in the past. It is important for us to honor the lives that were lost. And it is important for us to heal together as a city, as a state, as a nation, and move forward.”

Mayor Johnson was the Grand Marshall of the 51st annual celebration in 2022, with the extra distinction of being Milwaukee’s first elected Black Mayor.

He added that Americans needed to recognize that the pains from the past have continued to cause traumas in the present. By addressing Milwaukee’s social issues at their root, a stable environment could be created that offered sustainable safety for local neighborhoods, while promoting opportunities for local businesses to grow.

Milwaukee is home to one of the longest held Juneteenth Day celebrations in the United States. June 19, 2022 marked the 51st anniversary of the local event to commemorate Emancipation. When it first began in 1971, Milwaukee was one of the first Northern cities to host such celebrations. The local parade and festivities have been organized by Northcott Neighborhood House for the past half century.

“I was raised in an African centered household. One of the things that my mother and my family taught me was to never forget the historical relevance of all that has happened to people of African descent in the United States of America,” said Alderwoman Milele A. Coggs. “I have served for 14 years, and I have been the lead sponsor or co-sponsor for nearly 700 pieces of legislation. This, by far, is probably one of the most memorable and important ones for me.”

Alderwoman Coggs said how proud she was to help support the effort to elevate Juneteenth Day’s public recognition. It was something that her children and their children could forever celebrate with pride.

“Look at the other holidays we recognize as a city, July 4, Christmas, and Thanksgiving, and how embedded those are in our American culture,” added Alderwoman Coggs. “I am thankful to know that because of the action this Common Council has taken, and that this mayor has signed on to, we will now be recognizing Juneteenth in that same very powerful way.”

Alderwoman Coggs was responsible for pushing the original 2014 measure, and the lead sponsor of the change to make Juneteenth Day a full holiday. The measure was unanimously approved by the Common Council, and co-sponsored by members Jose G. Perez, JoCasta Zamarripa, Nikiya Dodd, Russell W. Stamper, II, Khalif Rainey, Michael Murphy, Marina Dimitrijevic, and Scott Spiker.

The Milwaukee ordinance goes into affect in 2023, and city offices will be closed each year on June 19. City employees will receive a paid day off. The city made Juneteenth an optional holiday in 2014, allowing city workers to switch it with an existing official holiday.

On June 19th 1865, Federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas to declare the emancipation of all Americans, of every slave being freed. The Emancipation Proclamation had been issued two-and-a-half years earlier by President Lincoln, but as a result of the geographic fractures created by the war, many strongholds of institutionalized racism existed.

Texas was the last of those entrenched territories. Its White population only accepted the news of emancipation by force, unwilling to come to terms with the changed reality. The war was over and Black Americans were no longer their property.

President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth holiday into law on June 17, 2021, and it became the 12th federal holiday. Aside from the opportunistic commercialization by corporate enterprises after that, Juneteenth Day has emerged as a holiday for all American to come together – not just African Americans.

The more that people begin to recognized the impact still affecting America today from slavery, the better American society can live up to its founding ideals as a land of the free and the home of the brave.

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Lee Matz