Northeast Florida author, teacher share their thoughts on Juneteenth becoming a federal holiday

President Biden signs legislation into law to make Juneteenth the 12th federal holiday

President Biden signs legislation into law to make Juneteenth the 12th federal holiday.

Locally, people within the community are celebrating the 12th federal holiday.

With overwhelming support in both chambers of Congress, President Joe Biden on Thursday signed legislation into law to make Juneteenth, or June 19, a federal holiday.

It’s the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was created in 1983.

“Long fought for, hard battles, just to recognize what this day means to people of color, people who have been enslaved in Africa. This is a very long overdue hard-fought battle,” said Northeast Florida author Marsha Phelts. “Oh today is a Black Fourth of July. Today is a day of freedom recognized by the country I was born in and the country I love. Today is a magnificent day, a magnificent day. This is my first Fourth of July. It belongs to me.”

Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers brought the news of freedom to enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas -- two months after the Confederacy had surrendered. That was also about 2 ½ years after the Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in the Southern states.

Teacher Mia Jenkins, who has been instructing children in Northeast Florida for 30 years, told News4Jax how she teaches Juneteenth to her students.

“Well, just in the last few years, we have incorporated it into Black History Month, so when we talk about freedom and slavery, then we also include Juneteenth, how it happened, what it is and what it means for everybody,” Jenkins said.

For Jenkins, Juneteenth is personal. Her uncle is the late Charlie Griffin. A photo of him in a bloodied shirt with a gash above his eye on Ax Handle Saturday was published in LIFE magazine’s Sept. 12, 1960, issue.

On Aug. 27, 1960, Black youths who staged a peaceful sit-in to integrate lunch counters in downtown Jacksonville were attacked by a group of white men wielding axes and bats. The day came to be known as Ax Handle Saturday.

“So a negative situation was turned to greatness now,” Jenkins said.

June 19 is the date, but on weekends, the holiday will be celebrated the day before or after.

What’s open or closed for the holiday this Friday? News4Jax didn’t get any firm decisions from local municipalities. Mail service will operate as normal both this Friday and this Saturday. Stock markets will be open.

There are Juneteenth events planned this weekend in Northeast Florida.

News4Jax anchor and reporter Kent Justice and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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