Juneteenth — a celebration of the emancipation of all slaves in the United States — has been an official federal holiday since June 2021, with the federal government, post offices and banks closed on June 19 each year.
While Florida has acknowledged the holiday since 1991, it isn’t an official state holiday so state workers must report to the office on Monday as usual. The same goes for City of Lakeland employees.
Lakeland is hosting public celebrations this weekend and next week, but there will be a City Commission meeting on Monday and all city offices will be open.
“I think I probably would rather support what the state does, period, on holidays,” Mayor Bill Mutz said, following an agenda study session Friday morning. “It’s an employee compensation issue. I mean it has all kinds of additional impacts in terms of staff … President’s Day is an example of that. That’s a federal holiday, not a state holiday, and we don’t have staff off on that.”
Mutz, who wasn’t aware that Juneteenth is now a federal holiday, said last year that he needed a full calendar year to plan for city employees to have the day off.
In 1991, the Florida Legislature passed a bill recognizing Juneteenth, signed by the late Gov. Lawton Chiles, a Lakeland native. In 2021, state lawmakers tried to make May 20 the official date to celebrate the end of slavery here, but they came up short in the Legislature – and then President Joe Biden signed into law the June 19 federal holiday.
In all, 27 states have declared it an official holiday including Connecticut, Minnesota, Nevada and Tennessee, which joined those ranks this year. In Polk County, the municipalities of Haines City, Winter Haven, Lake Alfred and Bartow have done the same. Those cities’ public offices will be closed on Monday.
Doris Moore Bailey, who has organized the celebration in Lakeland for 31 years, said she has not asked the city to declare it a holiday.
“I could do it, but with all the Republicans that are there now, I doubt I could get the support I would want,” Moore Bailey said. “I would hope Lakeland as the largest municipality in the county would do it. I didn’t want to hear them give me the ‘no,’ which I feel very strongly I would get just because of the political climate that we’re currently experiencing.”
City Attorney Palmer David said the city’s charter and the city codes are both silent on creating a holiday, but there is a way to do it.
“It would take adoption of a resolution by the City Commission,” Davis said Friday afternoon.
Moore Bailey was working on Friday to secure an alternate indoor location for Saturday’s festivities in case of bad weather. The forecast for Saturday is calling for rain throughout the day. The indoor, early evening part of the program in the Coleman-Bush Building, from 4:30 p.m. until 7:30 p.m., will go on as planned. A suggested donation of $10 is requested.
“It’s not about a party – it’s about learning your history and your culture and what the enslaved ancestor had to go through to get to this point,” Moore Bailey said. “It just didn’t happen overnight.”
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