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Juneteenth is now an official City of Milwaukee holiday

Emily Files
Ald. Milele Coggs was the lead sponsor of the ordinance to make Juneteenth an official City holiday.

Juneteenth is now an official City of Milwaukee holiday, commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. Mayor Cavalier Johnson signed the ordinance after the Common Council unanimously approved it last week.

It means starting next year, city employees will get June 19 as a paid holiday and city offices will be closed in recognition of the day.

Juneteenth refers to June 19, 1865, when enslaved people in Texas received the news that the Emancipation Proclamation was signed two years earlier.

"America’s got a dark history. The original sin of this country was slavery," said Mayor Johnson. "And so many people, including the folks standing behind this podium right now, have people in their families and their community that have endured the pains and traumas for generations of that vile institution of slavery. And so it’s important for us to recognize what has happened in the past."

Alderwoman Milele Coggs said the Juneteenth holiday can also be used to look forward to the racial justice work still left to accomplish. Coggs was the lead sponsor of the ordinance to make Juneteenth a city holiday.

"I was raised in an African-centered household and one of the things that my mother and my family taught me was to never forget the historical relevance of all that has happened to people of African descent in the United States of America," said Coggs.

The City previously made Juneteenth an optional holiday for employees. But Coggs said giving it the same significance as July 4 and Christmas sends a powerful message.

The additional paid holiday won’t have a major fiscal impact, according to City Budget Director Nik Kovac.

City spokesperson Jeff Fleming said June 19 won't be an added holiday for police and fire department employees, since their holidays are determined through collective bargaining.

Milwaukee joins a growing number of government institutions making Juneteenth an official holiday, including the federal government, Milwaukee Public Schools and Milwaukee County.

Milwaukee is also home to one of the oldest Juneteenth celebrations in the U.S.

Emily has been reporting on Milwaukee-area education for WUWM since 2018.
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