Sen. Santana reintroduces bill establishing Juneteenth as state-recognized holiday

By: - February 1, 2023 4:07 pm

Juneteenth flag flies along Livernois Avenue in Detroit | Ken Coleman photo

After years of attempting to pass bills that would honor Black history in Michigan, state Sen. Sylvia Santana (D-Detroit) reintroduced legislation on Wednesday that would establish Juneteenth as a state-recognized holiday. 

Santana introduced Senate Bill 50 on the first day of Black History Month after attempts to pass similar legislation in 2020 and 2021 under Republican leadership.

Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States. It dates to June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers announced in Galveston, Texas that the Civil War was over and those who were enslaved were now free. The announcement put into effect the Emancipation Proclamation, which President Abraham Lincoln had issued nearly two-and-a-half years earlier, on Jan. 1, 1863.

Sen. Sylvia Santana | House Dems photo

“Although freedom under the law was finally guaranteed, the truth is that Black and Brown people have faced the brunt of the U.S. government to this day,” Santana said in a press release. “Along with celebrating the end of this dark chapter in American history, we must also face the hard truth that the hard-fought battle for justice is not over.” 

Santana went on to reference police officers last month fatally beating Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, in Memphis, Tenn.

“The events of the past couple weeks have brought to bear the wounds of our past once more, reminding us that the work is not done in this country,” Santana said. “With this bill, I urge our great state to set an example of what it looks like to recognize the ending of slavery while also striving to take the lead on guaranteeing equal rights for every American.” 

In the wake of Nichols’ death, advocates across the United States, including Black lawmakers in Michigan, have called for reforms to a policing system that is rooted in slavery. Southern “slave patrols” that formed to ensure Black enslaved people would not escape evolved into today’s police departments that the FBI has warned have been infiltrated by white supremacists. Black people are now three times more likely than white individuals to be killed by police.

Santana introduced bills in 2020 and 2021 to establish Juneteenth as a state holiday, but Republican leadership did not hold hearings or votes on those bills. One Republican, former state Sen. Kim LaSata (R-Bainbridge Twp.), was a co-sponsor of the legislation in 2020; no other state Republican lawmaker has backed the bills. 

Sponsors of the legislation introduced by Santana on Wednesday include state Sens. Paul Wojno (D-Warren), Mary Cavanagh (D-Redford Twp.), Mallory McMorrow (D-Royal Oak), Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor), John Cherry (D-Flint), Rosemary Bayer (D-Beverly Hills), Sean McCann (D-Kalamazoo), Erika Geiss (D-Taylor), Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit), Sue Shink (D-Northfield Twp.), Kristen McDonald Rivet (D-Bay City), Veronica Klinefelt (D-Eastpointe), Dayna Polehanki (D-Livonia), Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids), Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield), Darrin Camilleri (D-Brownstown Township), Sam Singh (D-East Lansing), and Kevin Hertel (D-St. Clair Shores).

With Democrats now in control of both the House and the Senate, Santana’s legislation is more likely to pass. Should the Legislature pass it, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer would also be likely to sign it.

Santana has introduced other legislation around racial equity that Republicans blocked, including a 2021 bill that would ban the Confederate flag from the state Capitol. Under Republican leadership, that bill languished in the government operations committee and never received a hearing nor vote. 

That bill was introduced after the Confederate flag was flown inside the state Capitol during an armed, right-wing protest of Whitmer’s COVID-19 restrictions on April 30, 2020. Just prior to armed protesters storming the Capitol, state Sen. Dale Zorn (R-Ida) wore a face mask with a Confederate flag design on it.

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Anna Gustafson
Anna Gustafson

Anna Gustafson is the assistant editor at Michigan Advance, where her beats include economic justice, health care and immigration. Previously the founder of the Muskegon Times and the editor at Rapid Growth Media in Grand Rapids, Anna has worked as an editor and reporter for news outlets across the country.