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County embraces Juneteenth

Next June 19 will be a paid holiday for Lehigh County employees. What holiday is it? Juneteenth, the day remembered in United States history as the day Union Army General Gordon Granger landed in Galveston, Texas and ordered Texas slave owners to free the men and women held in bondage to work mainly in the area’s plantations.

According to Commissioner Amy Zanelli, Lehigh County is the third county in the state to declare Juneteenth a holiday. It is already a Pa. state holiday.

“This Juneteenth [a portmanteau of the words June and nineteenth], people across Pennsylvania and the world will celebrate this important day of independence,” said Governor Tom Wolf last year when he announced Juneteenth National Freedom Day. “This is a moment to honor African-American history and reflect on how each of us can promote equality, liberty and justice for all the people.”

African-Americans were declared free from slavery in several phases, starting with President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. However, the proclamation only applied to those states in rebellion against the United States. Actually, release from slavery came as the Union Army advanced through the South.

It wasn’t until April 9, 1865, at the surrender of General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Court House in Virginia that Confederate forces were defeated. Even then some Confederate commands held out and did not surrender until later.

On June 19, 1865 General Granger ordered those held in slavery be released in the Galveston area.

Even so slavery remained legal in some border states which had not rebelled against the United States. Slavery was outlawed in Delaware and Kentucky when the 13th Amendment was passed in December 1865, outlawing chattel slavery throughout the United States.

A bipartisan motion and second brought the motion on the floor. Democratic Commissioner Zaikya Smalls made the motion to amend the budget to fund the Juneteenth holiday and it was seconded by Republican Marc Grammes.

Lehigh County Commissioners voted 7 – 2 for the holiday.

The vote against the motion was also bipartisan. Democratic Commissioner Robert Elbich and Republican Commissioner Percy Dougherty voted against the holiday on the grounds of the cost. The holiday will cost Lehigh County taxpayers $150,000 per year to cover employee holiday pay, according to a release by County of Lehigh Executive Philips Armstrong.

Press photo by Douglas Graves Commissioner Zaikya Smalls sponsored the budget amendment that will fund a new Lehigh County holiday, Juneteenth.