Jun 17, 2022 - News

Emery County school board votes against observing Juneteenth holiday

Illustration of the June 2022 calendar with the Juneteenth flag filling the Monday the 20th square

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The Emery County School District's board voted unanimously Wednesday, against observing Juneteenth, a state and federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the U.S.

  • Board members did not provide an explanation or reason behind their vote, according to a low-quality, audio-only recording of their June 15 meeting released the following day.

Background: Utah lawmakers passed a bill this year to make Juneteenth an official state holiday nearly a year after President Joe Biden signed a law to recognize it as a federal holiday.

  • June 19 has been celebrated mostly by Black Americans since 1866. In recent years, more celebrations have popped up across the country recognizing the holiday.
  • Under state law, Juneteenth is being observed on Monday, June 20.

What they said: Ahead of the vote, one board member, who Axios could not identify based on the audio recording, noted, "As I recall, when Civil Rights Day came about our district was one that was slower to adopt and received a little bit of press for being slower to adopt."

There is no official Civil Rights Day on the district calendar but it does observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January.

  • "I would move that we, for the time being, leave it as is without considering Juneteenth as a holiday for our district employees," Board Vice President Marie Guymon Johnson replied.
  • The district's superintendent Ryan Maughan, Board President Tracey Johnson and Guymon Johnson did not respond to Axios' requests for comment.
  • Johnson was the only board member absent for the vote.

Rae Duckworth, head of Black Lives Matter Utah, said she was disappointed in the school board's vote.

  • "They don't value Black lives in Emery County," Duckworth told Axios. "This is not by any means surprising that they don't want to acknowledge or recognize Juneteenth."

Context: The school district faced backlash in 2016 after Summit Academy coaches and basketball players accused Emery High School and its fans of “racially-motivated abuse” during a game, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.

  • Aside from one incident of “inappropriate” behavior found, the school’s principal said the widespread criticism was unfair and didn’t reflect the entire school district.

Of note: About 97% of Emery County's population is white and less than 1% is Black, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. All five members of the board are white or white passing.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include comments from Black Lives Matter Utah

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