Maui News

Juneteenth is Added to Hawai‘i’s Official Calendar as a Permanent Day of Reflection

June 17, 2021, 6:42 AM HST
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With a group of supporters, Governor David Ige today signed SB 939 into law making Juneteenth a state holiday. Credit: The office of Representative John M. Mizuno

Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of African American enslavement in the United States, was added to the official state calendar as a permanent day of reflection, honoring the ancestral legacy and experience of African Americans.

In a formal ceremony at Washington Place, surrounded by legislators and civil rights advocates, Governor David Ige signed the measure, SB 939, which was passed by the Legislature in April.

“Hawaii has a proud and rich history of standing on the forefront of racial and social justice. As early as 1852 the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi wrote into law that: Slavery shall, under no circumstances whatsoever, be tolerated in the Hawaiian Islands; whenever a slave shall enter Hawaiian territory he shall be free, no person who imports a slave or slaves, into the King’s dominions shall ever enjoy any civil or political rights,” according to information compiled by the state Legislature. 

“With the national events from the summer of 2020 fresh in our collective minds and a renewed call to address the systemic racism that results in racial injustice and inequality, it is important and timely that Hawaiʻi acknowledges the experience of African Americans. We also recognize the accomplishments of African Americans and their roles in our state’s history. With the signing of this bill, I hope that June 19th will serve as a moment of reflection for all,” said Gov. Ige. 

The push for state recognition was kickstarted by Hawaii’s First-Ever African American Miss Hawaii USA, Samantha Neyland, 25, who after being motivated by the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor in the Summer of 2020, founded Hawaiʻi for Juneteenth, a grassroots coalition comprised of elected officials as well as civil-rights and education activists, including: the Anti-Defamation League, ACLU, the Democratic Party of Hawaii, the Honolulu NAACP, the African Americans on Maui Association, the Democratic LGBTQ Caucus, the University of Hawaiʻi and over 50 others.

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Samantha Neyland won the title of Miss Hawai’i USA 2020 in November 2019 making her Hawaii’s first ever African American Hawai’i Miss USA. She placed in the Top 10 at Miss USA 2020 and now works as a Mindset Coach and Keynote Speaker. Neyland is slated to be a guest speaker at Honolulu’s Juneteenth Event “And Still I Rise.”

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Neyland, who spoke alongside the governor, said, “I stand here today, beyond thrilled and proud of the State of Hawaii for choosing to stand in solidarity with our African American community. Neyland continued, “By forever acknowledging and memorializing this monumental day, Juneteenth will henceforth serve as an annual time of reflection. A day to awaken us, to inspire us and to challenge us to look inward as we seek to combat systematic racism and stand against all forms of inequality with the goal of creating a more vibrant and inclusive Hawaii.”

The movement gained tremendous momentum and in just a year’s time successfully lobbied the Hawaiʻi State Legislature to introduce and pass SB 939, which was sponsored by Senator Glenn Wakai and Representative John Mizuno.

“Aloha is Hawaiʻi’s super-power that lends itself to the acceptance of others. But even superheroes have their weakness,” said Sen. Wakai, author of SB 939, “Hawaiʻi is not immune to moments of racism. Juneteenth is a day for each of us to contemplate the explication of Aloha in our lives and reset our souls.”

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“Juneteenth represents so much more than just acknowledging America’s troubling past of slavery as well as ongoing instances of prejudice and discrimination,” said Rep. Mizuno, author of HB 1308 (SB 939’s companion bill). “It represents our desire to overcome, to triumph, and endure as a Nation where all people are free to enjoy the promise of life, liberty, justice and the pursuit of happiness.”

Juneteenth also known as Emancipation Day and Freedom Day celebrates the end of slavery when word of President Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation was brought by the Union Army to enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, making them among the last to be freed over two years later on June 19, 1865. 

Mizuno added, ” ‘What to the American slave is your Fourth of July?’ (stated by Frederick Douglass, leader of the abolitionist movement to end slavery and social reformer 1817-1895). His statement encapsulates Juneteenth for African Americans as this represents Freedom Day – Independence Day.”

“I am very happy to see this day finally come to fruition,” said Hawaiʻi for Juneteenth Coalition Member and Honolulu NAACP President, Alphonso Braggs. This statewide day of recognition ensures future generations will always be reminded of African Americans proud legacy, including our monumental contributions throughout the Hawaiian Islands. These cultural celebrations also remind us that although the Civil War was won with tremendous sacrifice, the battle for justice and equality for all persons in America continues.”

Currently, 48 other States have passed similar laws to make Juneteenth a ceremonial holiday with South Dakota now remaining as the only holdout. 

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