Sen. Spencer Coggs’ bill making Juneteenth Day, or June 19th, a legal holiday in Wisconsin, was signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Doyle in Milwaukee before a huge crowd of supporters at the Northcott Neighborhood House. Rep. Tamara Grigsby was the Assembly author of the bill.
“Passage of the Juneteenth Bill has been a long time in coming,” Sen. Coggs said. “Ever since 1987, when my late aunt, former state Rep. Marcia Coggs and I introduced Juneteenth legislation we have worked for many years to bring due recognition to the day when slaves were, in reality, freed.
The history of Juneteenth dates back to June 19th, 1865 when General Gordon Granger of the Union Army in Galveston, Texas delivered General Order No. 3 to the area’s Black population, which freed an estimated 250,000 men, women and children from slavery. The General Order alerted the former slaves nearly three years after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.
Upon hearing General Granger’s announcement, the people declared a holiday. Since then, African-Americans have traditionally adopted the day as a celebration of their independence. Together with the 4th of July, African Americans see the two days as a “cycle of freedom,” which signifies the affirmation: “Until All Are Free, None Are Free.”
Sen. Coggs said, “The signing of this bill on the date of December 1st is particularly significant because on this day 54 years ago, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus for a white rider in Montgomery, Alabama. Parks and the civil disobedience she inspired sparked a national movement that climaxed with passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Wisconsin is the 32nd state to recognize Juneteenth as a holiday. Efforts are also under way to have Congress recognize June 19th as a National Day of Observance.
“Milwaukee has long celebrated Juneteenth Day and I am proud that Wisconsin is moving forward to recognize this important holiday across the state,” Governor Doyle said. “Juneteenth Day marks a historic milestone in our nation’s history and celebrates the freedom that unites all Americans.”
Senate Bill 170 makes Juneteenth Day, June 19, an official legal holiday. Juneteenth Day is the oldest known celebration commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. On June 19, 1865, slaves in Texas first received word that all slaves in the U.S. had been freed by President Lincoln. Milwaukee first celebrated Juneteenth Day in the 1970s, and the annual event continues today.
Governor Doyle thanked Senators Coggs and Taylor and Representatives Grigsby and Young for their work on the bill.
National Juneteenth Holiday Campaign chair Rev. Ronald V. Myers, Sr., M.D. who is originally from Milwaukee was present at the governor’s signing the Juneteenth Day legislation at The Northcott Community Center. Myers says that it was a welcomed homecoming. Since leaving Milwaukee, Rev. Myers has tirelessly worked at making Juneteenth Day a national holiday. He is asking Congress to enact legislation to make Juneteenth a national day of observance in America.
“Wisconsin now joins Texas, Florida, Oklahoma, Delaware, Alaska, Idaho, Iowa, California, Wyoming, Illinois, Missouri, Connecticut, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, Colorado, Arkansas, Oregon, Kentucky, Michigan, New Mexico, Virginia, Washington State, Tennessee, Massachusetts, North Carolina, West Virginia, South Carolina, Vermont, Nebraska, Kansas and the District of Columbia in recognizing the end of enslavement in America,” states Rev. Myers, Sr., who grew up celebrating Juneteenth in Milwaukee. “Now that Juneteenth is a state holiday in Wisconsin, I will request that Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI) and Sen. Russell Feingold (D-WI) will co-sponsor legislation in the U.S. Senate to make Juneteenth a National Day of Observance in 2010, by lead sponsor Sen. Roland Burris (D-IL).”
Milwaukee began its annual observance of the Holiday in the early 1970’s. Mac Weddle, president of Northcott has been the head of the event. Weddle acknowledged one of the many early organizers of Milwaukee’s Juneteenth Day, Margaret Henningsen, who after visiting family Georgia where she observed a Juneteenth Day celebration. Henningsen, who is now co-president of Legacy Bank, shared the experience, and helped to make Milwaukee’s annual celebration a reality.