It’s a great day to appreciate freedom.
You may be saying: “Whoa there, Mike. July 4 is still a few weeks off.”
I’m talking about a different Independence Day, one of deep American tradition.
And it’s today.
Juneteenth — June 19th — commemorates the end of slavery and has been celebrated by African-Americans since its 1865 origin in Galveston, Texas.
In 1980, Texas became the first state to make Juneteenth an official holiday and now more than half the others have done the same thing. Some states, like Florida, have a “Day of Observance” for Juneteenth but not a holiday.
Then, in 2021, President Biden declared Juneteenth a federal holiday, so no mail today.
But the Courthouse is open because Citrus County last year declined an opportunity to have an official Juneteenth holiday.
Circumstances may have changed. Let’s talk about it.
Last October, Citrus County discussed adding Juneteenth to its list of paid holidays. A handful of residents, led by the respected Pastor Doug Alexander, suggested a Juneteenth holiday would allow the expression of heritage in Citrus County.
“We’re talking about freedom,” he said then, as I reviewed the video on Sunday. “If you start somewhere, we can be the lead county. We need to make sure it’s recognized.”
A woman held that the Fourth of July doesn’t have the same significance for many African-Americans as Juneteenth.
“My ancestors are the only ones that came here shackled and chained,” she said.
Chamber President Josh Wooten recalled he was a county commissioner in 2000 when the board proclaimed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday as a county holiday.
“We were on the right side of history,” he said.
All good reasons to declare Juneteenth as a county holiday, right? In this day of extreme growth in Citrus County, where everything is mowed down for the latest shiny store or restaurant, we should embrace opportunities to celebrate our community’s heritage.
Well, as mentioned, there is no county Juneteenth holiday. Came down to money: The county claimed it would cost $286,000 to add the holiday and commissioners said no way.
They decided employees could take it as a vacation day. Hardly the same thing.
Before I go further, a little bit about government holidays.
Let’s be honest…we all gripe about government-employee time off. At my Chronicle job, it was the Big Six: New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. In later years, they added Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday.
County employees have 11 holidays: All the above plus Good Friday, Veterans Day, the day after Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve.
So it’s easy to see how the public could roll its eyes at the thought of giving government folks another day off.
The County Commission, however, has made it a priority to get employee pay and benefits in line. It hired a consultant, which issued a report in May with all sorts of recommendations.
The consultant said the county is one or two paid holidays shy of a full deck. It compared Citrus County’s holidays with nine “market peers” — five counties and four cities — and the results were somewhat interesting.
Most of the county’s paid holidays lined up with what other counties and cities are doing, except one: Good Friday. None of the other “market peers” have Good Friday off.
Of the holidays Citrus doesn’t have, Juneteenth is a holiday in 71% of the other counties/cities.
Yet, the consultant suggested the county add two different holidays: President’s Day (28% of the others) and New Year’s Eve, which none of the others have.
Why the consultant reached that conclusion is anyone’s guess. But it’s the wrong one for this community. It’s clear Juneteenth belongs in that mix.
For those who want to poo-poo another government day off, a little perspective. Our national holidays — such as Memorial Day, Veterans Day and Independence Day — have personal significance to people. It’s not just another day at the beach. These holidays are deeply meaningful to individuals and the organizations they associate with.
Juneteenth has deep meaning to individuals in our community. It’s a day that celebrates freedom to a small but valuable segment of Citrus County.
Formal recognition through a government holiday isn’t too much to ask. Not at all.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.