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Boston councilors call for Juneteenth to be citywide holiday

Boston City Council President Kim Janey.
Boston City Council President Kim Janey.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/The Boston Globe

Boston city councilors are pushing for Juneteenth, an annual celebration that commemorates the end of slavery in the United States, to be an official citywide holiday.

The origins of the day lie in the arrival of a Union general and his troops in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, to free tens of thousands of slaves still in bondage two and a half years after Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Widespread celebrations ensued, though true liberation — particularly for those enslaved on plantations amid harvest season — was a gradual process.

Now, a trio of councilors are pushing to make Juneteenth — June 19 — to be an official holiday in Boston. Council President Kim Janey and Councilors Julia Mejia and Andrea Campbell plan to file legislation to that effect soon, according to a Wednesday statement. The council officially recognized Juneteenth through a resolution on Wednesday.

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According to authorities, cities like Chicago, Portland, and Philadelphia have taken steps to make Juneteenth a holiday.

“It is imperative that we as a City recognize the injustices this nation has forced upon Black people the past 400 years and how this history has laid the foundation for the systemic racism and inequalities we see today,” said Janey in the Wednesday statement. “We must undo the harm to allow healing by implementing real systemic change.”

Campbell noted that Juneteenth in Boston has long been associated with “Roxbury Homecoming,” an annual celebration for Black families to “come together around food, culture, and collective action to move our communities forward and address the systemic inequities we face.” Campbell thought June 19th should be dedicated to such purposes every year, and saw it as an occasion for residents who are not Black to “to educate themselves about a critical historical event, join events recognizing this history, and support efforts to dismantle racism and systemic inequities.”

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“Juneteenth may mark the formal end of slavery in this country, but the scars and the effects of slavery and the racist policies our nation was founded on are still visible, are painful, and demand our attention and our action,” said Campbell in Wednesday’s statement. “Juneteenth should be a Citywide holiday.”

Councilor Julia Mejia agreed that Juneteenth should be a call to action and that declaring it a city holiday would be an opportunity for education, celebration, and reclamation.

“Juneteenth isn’t just a celebration,” said Mejia. “Especially in times like this, it is a reminder of how far we’ve come, but also how much work we have to do to become truly free.”

The push to make June 19 a holiday in Boston comes amid broad conversations about systemic racism in the United States. A multitude of demonstrations have taken place in Boston in recent weeks protesting police brutality and structural racial inequities. There have been calls for substantial police reform, both nationwide and locally.

Recent rallies have focused mostly on the killing of George Floyd but also on the killing of Breonna Taylor in Louisville and racial inequality at large.

Floyd, a 46-year-old handcuffed Black man, died on Memorial Day when a white Minneapolis police officer pinned his knee to Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.

Taylor was a 26-year-old EMT killed in March by police executing a “no-knock” warrant on her home.

Previous Globe coverage was used in this report.

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Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.