Juneteenth drives debate in two metro Atlanta cities
It seems like an idea that everyone can get behind: creating an official holiday to mark Juneteenth, or June 19, 1865, when enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, finally learned they had been freed — despite the Emancipation Proclamation ending slavery in the Confederacy more than two years earlier.
- It’s attracted bipartisan support at the federal and state level, with President Biden and Gov. Brian Kemp signing laws to make June 19 an official holiday.
But two metro Atlanta cities — Tucker and Marietta — are struggling with the idea of Juneteenth as a paid holiday for city employees.
Why it matters: Both cities have diverse populations, and including Juneteenth on their list of recognized holidays would show they value the significance of this day for Black residents.
Marietta Mayor Steve “Thunder” Tumlin last week vetoed a divided City Council’s decision to make Juneteenth a paid holiday.
- Marietta is 32% Black and has three Black Council members, U.S. Census figures show.
What they’re saying: Tumlin tells Axios the veto was a “pause” in the process.
- He wants the City Council to discuss making Juneteenth, as well as Veterans Day, paid city holidays, per The Marietta Daily Journal.
The other side: Jeriene Bonner Grimes, president of the Cobb County NAACP, which has hosted Juneteenth festivals for more than a decade, tells Axios she is disappointed in the veto because Tumlin has celebrated Juneteenth and has given the organization proclamations for its efforts.
Of note: Juneteenth will fall on a Sunday this year. Any government observances will be on Monday.
- Along with the federal and state holidays, Juneteenth is a paid holiday in Cobb, DeKalb and Fulton counties, as well as the cities of Decatur and Atlanta.
The intrigue: Tucker Observer reporter Logan Ritchie tells Axios those in favor of keeping Juneteenth off Tucker's official holiday calendar cited the need for the city to stay open for summer camp programs.
- However, the Observer’s reporting showed the city’s summer camp schedule for the year didn’t have any programs slotted for June 20, the day when Juneteenth would be observed.
- When Ritchie raised questions about the discrepancy, the city tweaked the schedule to hold camp sessions on June 20.
- Other DeKalb cities that will close to honor Juneteenth include Avondale Estates, Clarkston, Brookhaven, Chamblee and Doraville, the Observer reported.
Many people in the city are “bewildered” by Tucker’s decision not to honor Juneteenth by closing its doors, Ritchie tells Axios. Tucker is 34% Black, and many people of color, LGBTQ and other progressives voted in record numbers in the 2021 municipal elections.
- "So, this and a couple of smaller issues are driving a wedge between the old guard of Tucker and the people who are making their lives there,” she said.
Kristal’s thought bubble: Juneteenth deserves to be celebrated as much as the Fourth of July.
Editor's note: This story has been corrected to state that Tucker Mayor Frank Auman is proposing the city celebrate Juneteenth on Dec. 6, not Dec. 3
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