Juneteenth, the annual June 19 observance of the end of slavery in the U.S., is now an official holiday for the DeKalb and Fulton county governments.
The boards of commissioners in both counties approved adoption of the holiday in votes earlier this month.
In both law and enforcement, the actual end of slavery took many years during and after the Civil War. Juneteenth is a grassroots holiday that marks the June 19, 1865 announcement by a U.S. Army general that slavery was abolished in the state of Texas. This year, the Buckhead-based Atlanta History Center collected an extensive online program for Juneteenth, which remains available here.
The adoption of the holiday by the county governments is a direct response to the nationwide protests and activism regarding racism, police brutality and social equity that followed the May police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota.
“I am honored and proud to represent the tradition of metro Atlanta and Fulton County leadership in the continuing fight for equity and justice for all residents,” said Fulton County Commissioner Joe Carn in a press release about his county’s July 8 approval of the holiday. “I believe that we are witnessing something that our ancestors have been waiting and praying over for years.”
The language of DeKalb’s Juneteenth resolution, adopted July 14, notes that “racism, discriminatinon and violence against African Americans have persisted in the United States and recent murders of African Americans have been captured on film.” It says that “recent events have led to broad-based opposition to racism, discrimination and senseless acts of violence such that the Governing Authority finds it is important to now honestly confront our sordid past and combat racism with acknowledgment of the often neglected but important history of these issues.”
In Fulton County, Juneteenth will replace Columbus Day, which honors explorer and colonizer Christopher Columbus. The protests have renewed controversy about Columbus, who is traditionally celebrated as the “discoverer” of the Americas from the European point of view in 1492, but who was criticized in his own time and today for enslavement, brutality and other major abuses. Statues of Columbus have been damaged or removed in several cities during the ongoing protests.