Alabama legislature wants state workers to choose Juneteenth or Jefferson Davis’ birthday


Workers in Alabama may have the choice between celebrating Juneteenth, a freedom holiday, or Jefferson Davis, the only president of the Confederacy who fought to maintain slavery. 

A bill introduced this month in the Alabama Legislature aims to revise the state’s holiday calendar by adding Juneteenth as a recognized state holiday. The proposed legislation, known as HB367, also proposes that state offices no longer close on Confederate President Jefferson Davis’s birthday, sparking debate among lawmakers and activists.

The bill seeks to amend Section 138 of the Code of Alabama 1975, which lists holidays resulting in state office closures. Under the existing law, state offices close on holidays such as Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s birthday, and Confederate Memorial Day.

Alabama GOP Rep. Chris Sells of Greenville, the original author of the bill, proposed that government employees could decide whether to take off the first Monday in June for Confederate President Jefferson Davis’s birthday or Juneteenth on June 19. Sells asserted that this proposal does not add another holiday to the existing 13 state holidays, addressing concerns raised by some state legislators. The national average of state holidays is 17, four more than Alabama recognizes.

Alabama Democratic Rep. Chris England of Tuscaloosa argued against the proposal, stating that there are already three state holidays recognizing the Confederacy, making it unnecessary to give employees an either/or choice between Davis’s birthday and Juneteenth.

The controversial bill follows Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves declaring April 2024 as Confederate Heritage Month in that state. This reportedly keeps alive a 31-year-old tradition that began in 1993. Beauvoir, the Biloxi museum and historic home of Jefferson Davis, which receives funding from the state, announced the proclamation in a Facebook post. 

The Mississippi Free Press reported that Beauvoir is owned and operated by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a neo-Confederate organization that promotes “Lost Cause” ideology, a revisionist history that whitewashes the Confederacy’s racist past and downplays the role of slavery in the Civil War. The Free Press noted that Beauvoir annually receives $100,000 from the State of Mississippi for development and maintenance.

Meanwhile, the Alabama bill has faced criticism from activists and community leaders. Tuscaloosa County NAACP President Lisa Young expressed concerns over honoring Jefferson Davis, citing his legacy. “Confederate President Jefferson Davis left a legacy of racist comments and outward support of slavery, making many feel a holiday in his honor is inappropriate,” said Young. 

“One of Davis’s most infamous comments is ‘[We recognize the negro as] our inferior, fitted expressly for servitude.’ We clearly know in 2024, that African Americans have contributed greatly to the growth of the United States and civilization across the world. So, we know that’s a falsehood. And we don’t want to celebrate anybody who held those beliefs.”

Young described Juneteenth as a learning holiday for the entire state. “Juneteenth represents the day the last slaves in the country learned of their freedom,” she said. “We do better when we know better.”

If passed, the proposed legislation will add Juneteenth to the list of recognized holidays in Alabama and introduce Mrs. Rosa L. Parks Day, set for the first day of December each year. If the Alabama Legislature approves, the bill will take effect on October 1, 2024.

Stacy Brown is the national correspondent for the NNPA.

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