‘it is necessary’: SGA still pushing to make Juneteenth an official UH holiday
Juneteenth, an annual celebration marking the announcement of emancipation in Texas and the end of slavery in the United States on June 19, 1865, has been acknowledged as a legal holiday in the Lone Star state since 1980. Forty years later, the day remains unrecognized as an official holiday by Texas’s three largest university systems.
Amidst nationwide protests over police brutality and the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor among others, the Student Government Association has renewed efforts to have the holiday recognized on the University’s academic calendar.
“I am finalizing the work of my predecessors because representation for all is important,” said SGA president Jasmine Khademakbari. “Since the University of Houston is one of the most diverse universities in the nation, it is necessary that our University be a progressive leader in matters of representation and racial equity.”
The SGA Senate passed the Freedom Day Acknowledgement in February 2019, demonstrating the organization’s support for having Juneteenth designated as an official University holiday.
The resolution stalled once it reached the academic calendar committee.
“There wasn’t any large opposition to recognizing Juneteenth as a holiday,” said 55th administration SGA president Cameron Barrett. “The bureaucratic process just didn’t complete by the time I left office.”
What is Juneteenth?
A blend of “June” and “nineteenth,” the holiday commemorates the day that news of emancipation and the end of the Civil War reached enslaved people in Texas. It is the oldest national observation of the abolition of slavery in the United States, according to Juneteenth.com.
Effective Jan. 1, 1863, “all persons held as slaves” were to be freed under President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Word of this proclamation did not reach Texas until two and a half years later, when Union Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston and put the executive order into effect across the state, according to the New York Times.
Since then, the holiday has blossomed into an annual celebration. Originally celebrated with prayer and family gatherings, the festivities grew along with the holiday’s popularity.
In 1872, a group of African American community leaders in Houston purchased 10 acres of land in the historic Third Ward neighborhood to hold the city’s annual Juneteenth celebration. In doing so, the men created Emancipation Park, just minutes away from the area that comprises the University’s campus.
Today, food and family remain integral to celebrations. Some cities, including Houston, hold larger celebrations, such as the annual parade at Acre Farms.
The pandemic has paused the festivities for this year, but the University has participated in the city of Houston’s Juneteenth parade for a number of previous years.
Although Khademakbari is collaborating with the administration and finance committee to have Juneteenth designated as an official University holiday, additional work will have to be done before students see its appearance on the academic calendar.
The academic calendar committee, a cohort of faculty and staff that coordinates the University calendar, does not have the authority to designate University holidays.
The final decision will rest with the Board of Regents, who determine the holidays that receive recognition on the academic calendar, according to UH spokesperson Chris Stipes.
Acknowledging Juneteenth is the least that Black Student Union president John Sowell thinks that the University can do, considering its importance to the black community.
“As a university that is located in Texas and prides itself on diversity, the omission of that critical moment in history is unacceptable and insensitive,” Sowell said. “By including Juneteenth … on the calendar, UH would demonstrate that they are aware of the struggles their students face and the cultures they come from.”