Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson speaks at council session.

COUNCILMEMBER JOHNSON INTRODUCES RESOLUTION CALLING ON THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT TO MAKE JUNETEENTH A NATIONAL HOLIDAY

In Council News, Kenyatta Johnson by PHL Council

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Council overwhelming approved Johnson’s resolution calling on the U.S. Congress to pass the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act

PHILADELPHIA,PA (March 4, 2021)—Philadelphia City Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson (2nd District) introduced a resolution today urging the U.S. Congress to pass Senate Bill 475 and House Resolution 1320, which would designate Juneteenth as a national holiday.

“Juneteenth is the oldest recognized celebration of African Americans’ liberation from institutional slavery in the United States,” Councilmember Johnson said. “The celebration honors African ancestors who were subjected to the atrocity of slavery and celebrates the triumph of their liberation. Federal recognition of the holiday would finally give recognition to the evils of American slavery and the centuries-long fight to redeem the American creed of equality for all.”

Co- sponsors of the Juneteenth resolution are Councilmembers Bobby Henon, Cindy Bass, Mark Squilla, Jamie Gauthier, Katherine Gilmore Richardson, Derek Green, Allan Domb, Cherelle Parker, and Helen Gym. A final vote on the resolution is expected at the March 11 City Council session.

The Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Abraham Lincoln on September 22, 1862, with an effective date of January 1, 1863. But it had minimal immediate effect because the Union had to enforce the order militarily, both during and after the Civil War. On June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Grangers and 2,000 federal troops arrived in Texas, the westernmost Confederate state, to take possession of the state and finally enforce the emancipation of its slaves. Two years, five months, and eighteen days after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, the last of those enslaved within the borders of the United States were finally free.

The joyous celebration of that day, known as Juneteenth, has been repeated through the years every June 19th. Philadelphians have long celebrated Juneteenth as an informal holiday, but they celebrated it as an official City holiday for the first time in 2020, by order of Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney. The Mayor issued a new executive order in January to declare Juneteenth an official city holiday every year through the end of his term in 2023.

On February 25th, 2021, U.S. Senators Edward J. Markey (Massachusetts), Tina Smith (Minnesota) and Cory Booker (New Jersey), along with U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (Texas) re-introduced the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, which makes Juneteenth a federal holiday. Senate Bill 475 and House Resolution 1320 has the support of hundreds of members of Congress and numerous organizations including National Juneteenth Observance Foundation, the Leadership Conference on Civil Human Rights, and the NAACP.

Recently, Philadelphia City Council overwhelming approved Councilmember Johnson’s Resolution No. 210144, which calls on the U.S. Congress to pass the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act.

House Resolution 40 (H.R.40), also known as the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act, seeks to examine the fundamental injustice of slavery perpetuated in the United States for over 200 years until 1865, and consider options for reparations. Congresswoman Jackson Lee is the lead sponsor of the bill in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senator Booker is the sponsor of the bill in the U.S. Senate.

“I want to thank my Council colleagues for voting to approve Resolution #210144,” Johnson said. “Following a year where racial injustice was at the forefront of the national conversation, continued actions need to be taken in order for the federal government to begin to make amends for the centuries of state-sanctioned violence and invidious discrimination against Black people. This is a necessary federal study and discussion to have in our nation and in Philadelphia.”

The co-sponsors of Resolution #210144 are Council President Darrell Clarke and Councilmembers Jamie Gauthier, Curtis Jones, Jr. , Derek Green, Cindy Bass, Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson, Allan Domb, Helen Gym, Kendra Brooks, Bobby Henon, Cherelle Parker and Isaiah Thomas.

Officials from the Philadelphia and national chapters of The National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (N’COBRA) and the Philadelphia Chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) spoke in support of Johnson’s resolution.

In 2019, The U.S. Census Bureau estimated 48.2 Million African Americans lived in the United States, which is nearly 14.7% of the total American population. Nearly 50 percent of Philadelphians are African American.

Several versions of H.R. 40 have been introduced in Congress for more than 30 years, but never taken up for a full vote. The U.S. House Judiciary’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties recently head a hearing on the issue.

If H.R. 40 is eventually approved by the U.S. House and Senate, the reparations commission that the bill seeks to establish would study the history of slavery, the role federal and state governments played in supporting slavery, and racial discrimination against the descendants of enslaved Africans.

The commission would be able to make recommendations regarding compensation and atonement for slavery. This is an essential step in the reconciliation for the sin of American slavery and a better understanding of its lasting effects.

According to a recent Reuters article, President Joe Biden supports a study on whether descendants of enslaved people in the United States should receive reparations. Reparations have been used in other circumstances to offset large moral and economic debts – paid to Japanese Americans interned during World War Two, to families of Holocaust survivors and to Blacks in post-apartheid South Africa.

H.R. 40 is supported by numerous prominent organizations including the Human Rights Watch, the ACLU, Amnesty International, Asians Americans Advancing Justice and the NAACP.
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Media Note: Copies of Philadelphia City Council Resolution #210144 and the Juneteenth resolution are available upon request. A link to information on H.R. 40 is available at https://tinyurl.com/2w6p9rnr

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