Hawaii’s first African American Miss USA Hawaii is launching a coalition to urge the Hawaii State Legislature to make Juneteenth a state holiday.
Hawaii is just one of four states that do not commemorate Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day. June 19, 1865, was the day that Union soldiers rode into Galveston, Texas, declaring the end of the Civil War and that all slaves were free.
The holiday is a “celebration of African American freedom and achievement, encourages continuous self-development and respect for all cultures,” the coalition says in a news release.
“As a state that prides itself on diversity and inclusivity, it is long overdue for the Hawaii Legislature to fully live out the Aloha spirit and stand with the 46 states that have chosen to make Juneteenth an annual day of remembrance and celebration.” Miss USA Hawaii Samantha Neyland said in the release.
“Many of our citizens are direct descendants of enslaved African peoples. Rightfully recognizing Juneteenth will send a message of solidarity to all of Hawaii’s blacks leaders, tourists, businesses and community members during this very critical moment as we seek to dismantle systematic racism.”
Neyland won the 2020 Miss Hawaii USA contest in November and will compete for the Miss USA crown later this year.
The coalition is made up of elected officials, nonprofits and civil-rights activists, including the Anti-Defamation League, LGBT Caucus of the Democratic Party of Hawaii, the Honolulu NAACP, the African American Association of Maui as well as the majority of the Maui County Council and Honolulu City Council members.
Governor David Ige has signed proclamations in recent years to acknowledge Juneteenth, but advocates would like to see more.
“When the Hawaii State Legislature convenes, it’s crucial that they send a clear and resolute message of support in solidarity with the African American community by introducing and passing legislation to make Juneteenth a permanent day of commemoration in Hawaii,” said City Councilman Tommy Waters.
The coalition points out Hawai’s proud history of being on the forefront of racial and social justice going back to 1852 when the Kingdom of Hawaii wrote into law that “Slavery shall, under no circumstances whatsoever, be tolerated in the Hawaiian Islands; whenever a slave shall enter Hawaiian territory he shall be free, no person who imports a slave or slaves, into the King’s dominions shall ever enjoy any civil or political rights.”
On Tuesday, the Maui County Council will vote on a resolution that would make Juneteenth a local holiday.