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Tennessee House Backs Making Juneteenth A State Observance, But Passage Is Unlikely

WPLN News (File photo)


A Tennessee representative wants to make Juneteenth a day of special observance in the state.

The measure (HB1626/SB1829) is moving in the House of Representatives with unanimous support, but its prospects in the state Senate are uncertain.

Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis, told WPLN News Monday his bill is meant to celebrate freedom. He also thinks it would help teach Tennesseans history from an African American perspective.

“This is a great vehicle to educate people,” Parkinson said. “To make sure they are aware they know what some of the history is for us as black people or African Americans.”

Juneteenth — celebrated yearly on June 19 — commemorates the effective end of slavery. But that date is not considered a special day in Tennessee. The state instead marks its Emancipation Day on Aug. 8.

That date is not an official holiday on which state offices are closed. Parkinson initially proposed making Juneteenth a state holiday, but an estimated annual cost to the state government $600,000 made him change his mind. Now, it would only make the date a special observance day.

Still, Parkinson notes that — if the bill becomes law — it would be a step closer towards equality. Although, there is a long way ahead.

“We are still working on financial freedom, we are still working on voting freedom,” Parkinson said. “We are still working on freedom for women, we are still working on freedom for ourselves as a race, period.”

The measure has received the support of the Republican supermajority as it goes through the different committees in the House. It is now headed to a full vote in the House of Representatives. But, it’s unlikely it will become law this year, as the Senate is only focused on passing COVID-19 or budget-related bills.

This story was reported by WPLN. 

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán is Nashville Public Radio’s political reporter. Prior to moving to Nashville, Sergio covered education for the Standard-Examiner newspaper in Ogden, Utah. He is a Puerto Rico native and his work has also appeared on NPR station WKAR, San Antonio Express-News, Inter News Service, GFR Media and WMIZ 1270 AM.