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SC lawmakers open to bill allowing state workers to take off Juneteenth or Confederate Memorial Day

Published: Jun. 18, 2021 at 4:57 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 19, 2021 at 9:10 AM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - After President Joe Biden signed a bill into law making Juneteenth a federal holiday, most federal offices around the country closed Friday in recognition of the day. But, state offices in South Carolina remained open.

While it was given special recognition in 2008, Juneteenth is not an official state holiday in South Carolina.

On June 19, 1865, Union Army Major General Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas, and informed enslaved African Americans that the civil war had ended and all slaves were free.

It came more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln’s historic Emancipation Proclamation but the same year as General Robert E. Lee surrendered.

Because June 19 falls on a Saturday this year, many are celebrating it on the closest workday.

However, Sen. Darrell Jackson, D-Richland, plans to introduce a bill when the legislative session resumes to make it so next year Juneteenth is a holiday in South Carolina.

“I am the grandson of slaves from Richland County, I am fortunate to be able to track three generations of slaves in my family. In 1865, my grandfather was 15-years-old and I try to imagine how he felt. first time, 15-years-old as a young boy, he gets to go out in the world and try to make a difference,” Jackson said.

Jackson said in 1865, most people in South Carolina were Black, and the vast majority were enslaved, which makes the holiday particularly important in the state to “celebrate where we’ve come from, to celebrate that day as a day of freedom.”

Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington, chairs the committee that would oversee Jackson’s bill. Shealy supports the legislation but said the main concern some members of her caucus might have is approving another day off for state employees.

“I think the main concern is not the holiday itself, we already have so many state holidays we are adding another state holiday,” she said.

Currently, there are 13 state holidays in South Carolina, according to state agency websites.

Shealy said removing Confederate Memorial Day is not an option for her as it is important to give people who have relatives who fought for the Confederacy a day to remember their ancestors.

“Let’s continue to honor everyone, everyone, let’s be bipartisan about it and all work together,” she said.

Sen. Josh Kimbrell, R-Spartanburg, echoed Shealy’s feelings and said he supports the holiday but there needs to be a limit to how many federal and state holidays are added to the calendar.

“Juneteenth is an observation of America fulfilling its pledge to become a ‘more perfect Union’ with the proclamation of the end of slavery in our Nation. It is a celebration of America’s goodness and of the promise of liberty fulfilled,” Kimbrell said. “Nevertheless, I do wish that Congress had substituted another obscure Federal holiday with Juneteenth, instead of further expanding the number of paid days federal employees take off while the rest of the country works.”

Jackson said he has spoken to Shealy about making a compromise similar to the deal made when Martin Luther King Jr. Day was becoming a state holiday. He said he is willing to write his legislation so state workers can either choose to take Confederate Memorial Day off or Juneteenth.

“I know it’s a process and I am not opposed to that option. If that is the best we can get and we can make that an option. I will be there for that,” Jackson said.

To any arguments that it is not necessary to have two days celebrating independence or freedom, Jackson noted his ancestors were still enslaved when the U.S. achieved independence from Great Britain.

“I think we can celebrate both, I think it’s important to celebrate the emancipation and the liberation of all people,” Jackson said.

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