The sponsor of HB338 is trying to make “Juneteenth,” a day commemorating the abolition of slavery, an official day of state observance in Utah.
The bill is sponsored by Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-Salt Lake City, who said the state of Utah has celebrated “Juneteenth” for over 75 years, and the “Juneteenth” committee for the state celebrated its 25th anniversary last year. The bill passed the House Government Operations Committee on Tuesday, Feb. 23.
“Juneteenth” celebrates June 19, 1865, when the community of Galveston, Texas, was informed of the Emancipation Proclamation ending slavery across the country, issued by President Abraham Lincoln on Sept. 22, 1862. The holiday is observed the third Saturday in June by 42 states.
“This observance has come to celebrate Abraham Lincoln’s bold move to take a stand against slavery,” Hollins said. “This celebration reminds us that we as a country do not support this concept, it celebrates all the freedoms we enjoy as Americans.”
Forest Crawford, a professor at Weber State University, advocated for the bill at the committee meeting. He talked about the effect that the celebration has on the community as a whole, not just the African American community.
“What I’ve seen over the years, it’s not just an African American gathering,” Crawford said. “It’s communities, agencies and has become somewhat of a multicultural event. … We have speakers, a panel discussion, to remind people that yes, we are celebrating, but no, we are not at the point where we are complacent about where we’re at; there is still work that needs to be done,.”
Diane Lavell, representative of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority graduate chapter in the Salt Lake area, also spoke on behalf of the bill, stating the importance of respect among cultures.
“I ask that you help to promote knowledge and appreciation of African American history and culture,” Lavell told the committee. “Respect and appreciation of our differences can grow out of exposure and working together.”
Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, endorsed the bill, citing her uncle as one of the individuals who started the Civil Rights Division within the Department of Justice.
“Celebrating freedom is important to all of us,” Arent said. “This bill sends a really critical message outside of our state about the values of Utahns.”
If “Juneteenth” indeed is recognized as a state-wide commemorative day, it would join with a few other days throughout the year, including Bill of Rights Day on Dec. 15, Constitution Day on Sept. 17 and Utah State Flag Day on March 9.
The bill was endorsed in a 6-1 vote by the House Government of Operations Committee and will now move on to the full House of Representatives.