CONYERS — The Rockdale County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously at its meeting on Sept. 22 to add Juneteenth (June 19) as an official county holiday beginning in 2021.
Juneteenth observes the end of slavery in the U.S. and marks the day — June 19, 1865 — when news of emancipation reached people in the deepest parts of the former Confederacy in Galveston, Texas.
Although the Emancipation Proclamation, an executive order declaring that “all persons held as slaves” would be free, was signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, and Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender in Appomattox, Va., marked the end of the Civil War in April of 1865, news spread slowly. When the announcement of freedom finally reached Galveston, Texas, newly liberated Blacks celebrated with prayer, dance and community feasts. Many observances today bring together family members and recognize Black freedom by reading passages from the Emancipation Proclamation and holding religious services.
District 1 Commissioner Sherri Washington, who championed the proposal to make Juneteenth a county holiday, thanked her colleagues for their support.
“By us doing this, we have shown not just the employees what we value, but the rest of the world what we value, and that is the entire history of this country and the entire notion of freedom in this country,” Washington said. “I hope that when our employees are taking this day off, they affirm to the community that you support their service, but also a recognition of our heritage and the heritage of this entire country.”
Texas became the first state, in 1980, to declare Juneteenth as a holiday. Georgia declared Juneteenth Celebration Day a holiday in 2011. More than 200 official events take place across the country and the world in celebration of Juneteenth.
To date, 47 of the 50 states as well as the District of Columbia acknowledge or observe Juneteenth as a holiday, with the only three states which haven’t formally approved Juneteenth as a state holiday being Hawaii, North Dakota and South Dakota.
Commission Chair Oz Nesbitt Sr. noted that he has asked Public Relations Director Jorge Diez and his department to make plans to educate the public about Juneteenth during February, which is recognized as Black History Month.
“We need to spend more time educating the community — not just white folks, but Black folks — about the essence and the true meaning of Juneteenth,” Nesbitt said. “When we take this day off and observe this day as a county holiday for our employees, we want them to be educated. They need to know the true meaning behind this particular holiday. So we’re going to make sure during the month of February that we highlight and educate all of those in Rockdale County about the importance of the Juneteenth holiday.”