HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Forty-seven states officially recognize Juneteenth —the day that commemorates the ending of slavery in the United States.
Hawaii is one of the states that does not, as well as North and South Dakota.
However, the Black Lives Matter movement may be changing that, as the city on Thursday recognized the day as an annual celebration on Oahu.
“I think it’s a very important day today, given Black Lives Matter, and also important before then but it has extreme importance now because of all that’s happened around our country,” said Mayor Kirk Caldwell.
Nikkya Taliaferro is a 16-year-old Moanalua High School student. She said she didn’t learn about Juneteenth in school.
“Of course my culture and my background and my history was instilled in me by my parents, and Juneteenth was always an important holiday for us,” she said.
Taliaferro was one of the organizers of the huge Black Lives Matters march and rally in Honolulu earlier this month.
“I think Juneteenth is really a reminder of how far we’ve come, but also really encourages people to work toward our goal, which is to stop mass incarceration, stop discrimination of Black Americans,” she said.
Even though Hawaii doesn’t officially recognize Juneteenth, Maui County Maui Mike Victorino led a flag-raising ceremony at the county building in Wailuku to mark the day.
Gov. David Ige issued a proclamation, marking today as “Juneteenth Day” in Hawaii.
“Here in Hawaii, it’s a little bit different because Hawaii doesn’t have a history of slavery,” said Dr. Akiemi Glenn, the executive director of The Popolo Project. “But we are here and it’s an opportunity for us to celebrate that moment for our ancestors and also what that moment promised, even though not all of those promises have been realized yet.”
Glenn also noted that King Kamehameha III decreed that the Kingdom of Hawaii would not tolerate slavery more than a decade before the Civil War.
“The constitution of Hawaii in 1852 explicity said that Black people, enslaved people who made it to Hawaii would be free, and that no one could pursue them, no one could chase them and recapture them,” said Glenn.
There’s been talk of making Juneteenth a holiday, like the one honoring slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “It took forever to get Martin Luther King Day a holiday here in the state of Hawaii. So I recognize there could be some challenges there, but I think it’s something we should seriously look at and consider,” said Caldwell.
Black leaders here in Hawaii said Juneteenth should be commemorated and celebrated.
“The fight continues tomorrow,” said Taliaferro. “Today, we celebrate.”
Correction: A release from the City and County of Honolulu had stated that Hawaii is the only state that does not officially recognize “Juneteenth.” It is actually one of three states that do not recognize the commemoration. Hawaii News Now regrets the error.