There will be grumbles, we are sure, about the North Dakota Legislature’s decision to declare June 19 as a statewide holiday. After all, two dozen lawmakers were against the idea.
Generally known as Juneteenth, the day marks the official end of slavery in the United States. Over the years, it has been called by other names, including Freedom Day and Emancipation Day.
No matter the name, the decision by the Legislature to create this statewide holiday is a move that’s a long time coming. The holiday marks the anniversary of June 19, 1865, when Texas was declared free of slavery. Over time, it became an undeclared holiday among many in the South. Eventually, most all states realized its significance and began officially recognizing the day. As of today, only three states – the Dakotas and Hawaii – don’t recognize Juneteenth.
It’s a terrible oversight and one that, with Gov. Doug Burgum’s signature, will be rectified shortly in North Dakota. The governor, we hope, will not hesitate with this important and historical clerical task.
Officially, the proposal grew as Senate Bill 2232, earning passage in the Senate, via a 44-3 vote. Only Cole Conley, R-Jamestown; Jason Heitkamp, R-Wahpeton; and Oley Larsen, R-Minot, voted against it.
This week in the House, it passed 70-22. Voting against were Rick Becker, R-Bismarck; Chuck Damschen, R-Hampden; Sebastian Ertelt, R-Lisbon; Patrick Hatlestad, R-Williston; Dori Hauck, R-Hebron; Jeff Hoverson, R-Minot; Terry Jones, R-New Town; Karen Karls, R-Bismarck; Lawrence Klemin, R-Bismarck; Jeffry Magrum, R-Hazelton; David Monson, R-Osnabrock; Dave Nehring, R-Bismarck; Mark Owens, R-Grand Forks; Bob Paulson, R-Minot; Gary Paur, R-Gilby; David Richter, R-Williston; Karen Rohr, R-Mandan; Dan Ruby, R-Minot; Mike Schatz, R-New England; Kathy Skroch, R-Lidgerwood; Nathan Toman, R-Mandan; Don Vigesaa, R-Cooperstown.
According to a Forum News Service report earlier this week, Fargo Democrat Sen. Tim Mathern introduced SB 2232 along with Grand Forks Republican Sen. Ray Holmberg. Mathern said he wasn't aware of Juneteenth until last summer, when he participated in marches after the Minneapolis death of George Floyd. Mathern then committed himself to creating some sort of legislation to celebrate, in North Dakota, emancipation. Holmberg then joined the effort.
Said Mathern: "I think it's a symbol of respect for that history.” He called the effort “another welcome sign” for people of all races in North Dakota, where the population is overwhelmingly white.
If it’s signed by Burgum, it will not, however, provide a day off for federal employees, and we’re fine with that. Mathern didn’t feel he could get enough support if he took the proposal that far.
Some don’t agree with the idea. Rep. Rick Becker, a Republican from Bismarck, said he would prefer North Dakota establish its own day to commemorate the end of slavery. Juneteenth, he believes, “comes from the left” and is a “movement in lines with being woke.”
For those not following contemporary political terminology, “woke” means being made aware, or awakened, to certain social issues and topics. In the past year, that social issue generally has been racism.
And so what if we are “woke” on racism and, effectively, on Juneteenth?
Gov. Burgum, sign the bill. Wake up North Dakota.