(The Center Square) – Florida observes three state holidays commemorating confederate leaders: Gen. Robert E. Lee’s birthday Jan. 19, Confederacy President Jefferson Davis’ birthday June 3 and Confederate Memorial Day on April 26.
State Rep. Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa, said she will introduce a bill in 2021 seeking to remove those days from the state’s holiday calendar and elevate June 19 – or Juneteenth – from a day of observance to a state holiday.
“Juneteenth should be a legal holiday,” Driskell tweeted last week. “Marking it as a mere day of observance is insufficient. Our state’s legal observance of Confederate holidays is outdated and has no place in Florida’s present or future.”
Driskell later said in a statement that during the next legislative session, she will “introduce legislation to repeal the Confederate holidays that are official legal holidays in Florida. No world should exist in which these Confederate holidays are elevated above the contributions of these slaves, their descendants, and those who fought for their freedom.”
June 19 is celebrated across the U.S. as the day when the last enslaved African Americans in Texas were freed in 1865. It also is known as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Liberation Day and Emancipation Day.
While not an official federal holiday, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a 2018 resolution in honor of the day. Legislation has been introduced in Congress several times to make Juneteenth either a national day of observance, similar to Flag Day or Patriot Day, or a full-scale federal holiday.
Florida is one of 47 states and the District of Columbia that recognize Juneteenth as a day of observance, but only Texas has adopted Juneteenth as a paid holiday for state employees.
During his Juneteenth proclamation issued Friday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis did not mention Driskell’s call for a state holiday, but called it “the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery.”
Juneteenth “is an important opportunity to honor the principles of the Declaration of Independence and celebrate the achievements and contributions African Americans have made, and continue to make, in Florida and across our nation,” DeSantis said in his Juneteenth Day proclamation.
While Driskell’s prospective bill may be the first time a proposal seeking to make June 19 a state holiday has been introduced in Florida, legislation to remove the confederate holidays from the state calendar have failed before.
In 2018, Senate Bill 224, sponsored by Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, sought to eliminate the birthdays of Lee and Davis and Confederate Memorial Day from the state’s list of legal holidays, which does not mean they are paid holidays.
Book’s bill quickly was politicized and received considerable pushback in its one committee hearing from speakers who said the measure would be “cultural genocide” and an “insult” to their ancestors.
There are 21 days on Florida’s official state calendar listed as state holidays. In addition to the three commemorating the Confederate cause, they include Susan B. Antony’s Feb. 15 birthday, Good Friday, Pascua Florida Day (April 2), Farmers’ Day (second Monday in October) and “Shrove Tuesday” as part of Mardi Gras celebrations.
Nine holidays are paid holidays in Florida: New Year's Day, Dr. Martin Luther King’s Jan. 20 birthday, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Veterans' Day, Thanksgiving Day and the Friday afterward, and Christmas Day.