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Monday, October 14, 2019

Campus

Student works to recognize Juneteenth on UH’s official calendar


In 2003, Houston-based U.S. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee advocated for the United States to recognize Juneteenth as a national holiday. | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/ user: johntex~commonswiki

Juneteenth — commemorating the end of slavery in Texas and the United States on June 19, 1865 — is recognized as an official holiday in 45 states, including Texas. But of the state’s three flagship university systems, none officially recognize the celebration.

Since transferring to UH, construction management junior Bethany Jackson-Price has led the charge to land the historic holiday, which she believes represents a more inclusive celebration of freedom, a spot on the University’s academic calendar.

“As a minority, when I celebrate ‘Independence Day,’ it’s not my independence I’m celebrating — it’s always a bittersweet celebration,” Jackson-Price said. “Juneteenth is the true Independence Day for all Americans.”

The Student Government Association Senate is expected to vote on the ‘Freedom Day’ Acknowledgement, which Jackson-Price co-authored with SGA President Cameron Barrett, on Feb. 6. If passed, the resolution will represent a show of SGA support in recognizing Juneteenth as an officially observed University holiday.

“July 4th is not an accurate Freedom Day because many minorities, most inclusive to African Americans, were not free that day,” according to the current draft of the resolution.

Jackson-Price said her goal isn’t to dispute the importance of Independence Day, but to instead recognize that it wasn’t until Juneteenth that all Americans were able to benefit from that freedom.

More than two years passed, after Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation declared the slaves free, before most slaves in the rebelling states were released.

According to the Dallas Morning News, a Union Army general arrived in Galveston on June 18, 1865, to announce victory over the Confederacy. Freedmen officially learned of their emancipation the next day.

In 1980, Texas became the first state to recognize Juneteenth as a holiday, but Jackson-Price said she didn’t learn of the holiday until she took an interest in black history in college.

Despite Juneteenth’s status as a state holiday, she was surprised to find it wasn’t mentioned in any of her history textbooks. Given its ties to the Houston-Galveston area, in addition to UH’s proximity to one of Houston’s historically black communities, Jackson-Price and Barrett believe the University is in a unique position to recognize the day’s significance.

“(UH) is basically the spirit of the Houston area,” Jackson-Price said. “It would teach others that definitely don’t know about it — there’s a lot of people that don’t know about the holiday — and I’m thinking if the college can get more involved, it’s all about educating others.”

Beyond recognition on the calendar, she hopes UH will take the opportunity to further teach the community about Juneteenth and its place in Texas history. Ideally, she would like to see it commemorated with different activities and on-campus presentations.

Though Barrett expects the “Freedom Day” Acknowledgement to pass in the SGA Senate without issue, there will remain more to be done before UH students see the holiday on the academic calendar.

Executive Director of Media Relations Mike Rosen said Jackson-Price will then be able to present the idea to an academic calendar committee, which is comprised by faculty and staff appointed by the Provost’s Office. The decision will then rest with the University Provost.

If the University decides against recognizing Freedom Day on the academic calendar, however, Barrett said it wouldn’t be a reflection of UH’s values but instead on the process needed to grant recognition.

“That’s just one of those moments when you’ve got to be disappointed in the University’s policy-making process,” he said.

But since Jackson-Price is asking solely for recognition of the holiday, as opposed to a day off from classes, Barrett said he is pretty confident it won’t be an issue.

“If this college does accept and celebrate this day, and we as a campus body are able to celebrate this ‘Freedom Day’ as we celebrate other holidays here, that would be monumental,” Jackson-Price said. “I truly believe this would set the example for other colleges and schools in this state.”

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