Amid national pressure, Hawaii becomes 49th state to officially recognize Juneteenth

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Published: Jun. 16, 2021 at 2:08 PM HST|Updated: Jun. 16, 2021 at 2:32 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Gov. David Ige signed a bill Wednesday morning, making Hawaii the second to the last state to recognize Juneteenth as an official day of remembrance.

This comes one day after the US Senate’s decision to unanimously pass a bill to make June 19 a federal holiday.

“With the signing of this bill, I hope that June 19 will serve as a moment of reflection for everyone here in the islands and across the country,” Ige said.

Although it’s not an official federal holiday yet, the House is expected to vote and pass the bill Wednesday and become law with President Joe Biden’s signature just days before Juneteenth.

According to Samantha Neyland, founder of Hawaii for Juneteenth, the most opposition she received from community members were opinions that racism doesn’t exist in Hawaii. But as part of less than 4% of the local Black community, she said there’s a lot of misconception.

In 2013, Neyland won the title of Miss Hawaii Teen USA. She said she remembers a woman congratulating her for becoming the first Black Miss Hawaii Teen USA but advised her to revel in her time with the crown because “Hawaii would never crown a Black Miss Hawaii USA.”

Neyland became the first Black woman to wear the Miss Hawaii USA crown last year. And while she said racism isn’t as prevalent as other states on the mainland, she believes it’s embarrassing to not officially commemorate June 19.

“By recognizing Juneteenth, I think we’re taking a small step toward ending racial disparity here in Hawaii,” Neyland said.

Juneteenth traces its historical significance back to 1865 ― two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, when a Union Army major general rode into Galveston, Texas, and announced that all slaves were free.

While many associate independence with July 4, Neyland said that June 19, 1865, was the first day that all Americans were truly free.

“If we give [our younger generation] information on our past, it can help them understand our present and change our future,” Neyland said. “We can’t expect people to battle and break down systemic racism if we don’t allow them to understand where it comes from or why it exists.”

To celebrate the state’s first official Juneteenth, there is a community ceremony on Saturday morning at Kapiolani Park and Saturday afternoon at Manoa Valley Theatre.

For more events, click here.

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