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Juneteenth: A Celebration of Freedom State v. Federal Causes Confusion

Jun 17, 2023
Juneteenth Harrison NJ Celebration

Juneteenth, a portmanteau of "June" and "nineteenth," holds a special place in American history as a symbol of the end of slavery. Over the years, the day has gained increased national recognition, resulting in it being celebrated both at the federal and state levels. In 2020, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed legislation declaring the third Friday of June a state holiday in commemoration of Juneteenth. Initially, the Juneteenth Holiday was designated to be on June 19th each year but legislation amended the initial legislation to hold the holiday on the third Friday of June. In 2021, President Joe Biden signed into law a nationwide celebration of Juneteenth to take place annually on June 19th

Significance of Juneteenth

The significance of Juneteenth dates back to June 19, 1865. Over two months after the end of the Civil War and more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, enslaved Black Americans in Galveston, Texas were finally informed of their freedom. Despite the delay in receiving this crucial news, the celebrations that ensued were poignant and momentous, leading to the annual commemoration of Juneteenth.

Contention & Confusion

In 2023, however, the commemoration of this significant day in the town of Harrison, New Jersey, proved to be a point of contention and confusion. The Town of Harrison closed its offices on Friday, June 16, in alignment with the state holiday, while the Harrison Public School had initially planned to follow suit.

Unexpectedly, the Harrison Board of Education altered its closure plans. They decided that the school would remain open on Friday, June 16, and instead close on Monday, June 19, aligning their observance more closely with the nationwide celebration of Juneteenth and its historical significance.

Unfortunately, this sudden change caused disarray among the school staff and families. The initial school calendar had marked Friday, June 16, as a school holiday, and many had made plans based on this information. The change to Monday, June 19, disrupted these plans, but the impact was further amplified by an apparent lack of communication around the change.

School Crossing Guard

A school crossing guard’s daughter went on Facebook to ask whether Harrison schools were closed on Friday or Monday. The daughter got her answer but we hope other crossing guards were notified of the change. The school crossing guard was relying on the Official School Calendar given to the crossing guards at the beginning of the school year which had the school closed on Friday not Monday.

In a day meant to celebrate freedom and unity, the change from Friday, June 16, to Monday, June 19, was perceived negatively, primarily due to its impact on the plans of staff and families. It is not clear why the change was made. 

In future celebrations of Juneteenth, the events of 2023 in Harrison should serve as a reminder of the importance of clear communication and thoughtful planning. By doing so, communities can ensure that the focus remains on the true essence of Juneteenth: a celebration of freedom, progress, and unity.

Next year in 2024 the Federal Juneteenth Holiday will fall on a Wednesday, June 19, 2024.  The State of New Jersey Juneteenth Holiday will fall on Friday, June 21, 2024 (the third Friday in June per New Jersey’s legislation)

Give Us Your Opinion

 What are your thoughts on when the Juneteenth Holiday should be celebrated?  Should it be celebrated on June 19th of each year or on the third Friday of June.  An extended weekend is nice but shouldn’t the holiday of this significance be celebrated on the 19th, the actual day of June that gives it significance.   

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