FL Gov. DeSantis’ Juneteenth proclamation draws attention to Confederate holidays still on the books

June 19 is celebrated in the United States, highlighting the day when the last of enslaved African Americans were freed in 1865. Credit: iStock/Getty Images Plus

As Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a proclamation Friday commemorating the day slavery ended in the United States, questions have been raised about the state’s approach to observing public holidays that represent racial injustice and whether Juneteenth will be added to the list of public holidays.

According to Florida statutes, Florida observes legal holidays such as celebrating Confederate leaders Robert E. Lee, whose birthday is January 19, and Jefferson Davis, whose birthday is June 3, as well as Confederate Memorial Day on April 26.

Robert E. Lee was the South’s top general during the Civil War and Jefferson Davis was the president of the Confederate states.

Not everyone may know that Florida’s holidays include Civil War-related public figures and controversy over those figures has often been around whether statues of the Confederate leaders should stay up or down.

As to holidays in Florida, Juneteenth, on June 19, is not a public holiday in the state.

“Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery…and is an important opportunity to honor the principles of the Declaration of Independence and celebrate the achievements and contributions African Americans have made, and continue to make, in Florida and across our nation,” the governor’s “Juneteenth Day” proclamation said.

Friday marks a significant time in history, when the remaining enslaved African Americans in the United States were granted freedom in 1865 – also known as Juneteenth. Here is a previous Florida Phoenix report on Juneteenth.

With Juneteenth not recognized as a public holiday in Florida, state lawmakers and civil rights groups are pushing for change.

They think that DeSantis’ proclamation is only a minor step towards the goal of highlighting significant events in African American history.

“That’s a small step in the right direction but we have a lot more to do,” Yvette Lewis, president of the NAACP Hillsborough County Branch, said in a phone interview with the Phoenix.

State Rep. Fentrice Driskell, a Democrat representing part of Hillsborough County, wrote on Twitter Thursday:

“Juneteenth should be a legal holiday. Marking it as a mere day of observance is insufficient. Our state’s legal observance of Confederate holidays is outdated and has no place in Florida’s present or future.”

Driskell said in a separate written statement that during the next legislative session she plans to “introduce legislation to repeal the Confederate holidays that are official legal holidays in Florida.”

“No world should exist in which these Confederate holidays are elevated above the contributions of these slaves, their descendants, and those who fought for their freedom,” she said.

Celebrations are taking place Friday across the state such as virtual events, marches and in-person events, amid “Black Lives Matter” protests and demonstrations nationwide over racial injustices.

The Florida Democratic Party announced that it will host a live virtual event celebrating Juneteenth Friday evening on social media.

“Juneteenth is an important day celebrating the end of slavery in Texas, the last slave holding state in the United States, over two years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. This is both a time for us to celebrate freedom and African American achievements and a time for us to recommit ourselves to racial justice,” Terrie Rizzo, chair of the Florida Democratic Party, said in a written statement.