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Hawai´i Makes Juneteenth Official Day of Remembrance

June 16, 2021, 4:43 PM HST
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Hawai´i has a new holiday celebrating the abolition of slavery in the United States.

Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of African American enslavement in the United States, has been added to the official state calendar as a permanent day of reflection, honoring the ancestral legacy and experience of African Americans.

In a formal ceremony at Washington Place, surrounded by legislators and civil rights advocates, Governor David Ige signed the measure, which was passed by the Legislature in April.

As early as 1852 the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi wrote into law the following:

“Slavery shall, under no circumstances whatsoever, be tolerated in the Hawaiian Islands; whenever a slave shall enter Hawaiian territory he shall be free, no person who imports a slave or slaves, into the King’s dominions shall ever enjoy any civil or political rights.”

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“With the national events from the summer of 2020 fresh in our collective minds and a renewed call to address the systemic racism that results in racial injustice and inequality, it is important and timely that Hawaiʻi acknowledges the experience of African Americans,” Ige said. “We also recognize the accomplishments of African Americans and their roles in our state’s history. With the signing of this bill, I hope that June 19th will serve as a moment of reflection for all.”

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The push for state recognition was kickstarted by Hawaii’s First-Ever African American Miss Hawaii USA, Samantha Neyland (25), who after being motivated by the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor in the Summer of 2020, founded Hawaiʻi for Juneteenth, a grassroots coalition comprised of elected officials as well as civil-rights and education activists, including the Anti-Defamation League, ACLU, the Democratic Party of Hawaii, the Honolulu NAACP, the African Americans on Maui Association, the Democratic LGBTQ Caucus. The University of Hawaiʻi and over fifty others.

Neyland, who spoke alongside the governor, said, “I stand here today, beyond thrilled and proud of the State of Hawaii for choosing to stand in solidarity with our African American community. By forever acknowledging and memorializing this monumental day, Juneteenth will henceforth serve as an annual time of reflection. A day to awaken us, to inspire us and to challenge us to look inward as we seek to combat systematic racism and stand against all forms of inequality with the goal of creating a more vibrant and inclusive Hawaii.”

The movement gained tremendous momentum and in just a year’s time successfully lobbied the Hawaiʻi State Legislature to introduce and pass SB 939, which was sponsored by Senator Glenn Wakai and Representative John Mizuno.

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“Aloha is Hawaiʻi’s super-power that lends itself to the acceptance of others. But even superheroes have their weakness,” says Sen. Glenn Wakai, author of SB 939, “Hawaiʻi is not immune to moments of racism. Juneteenth is a day for each of us to contemplate the explication of Aloha in our lives and reset our souls.”

Juneteenth also known as Emancipation Day and Freedom Day celebrates the end of slavery when word of President Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation was brought by the Union Army to enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, making them among the last to be freed over two years later on June 19th, 1865.

Currently, 48 other States have passed similar laws to make Juneteenth a ceremonial holiday with South Dakota now remaining as the only holdout.

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