Many county and municipal government bodies in the Atlanta metro area have passed similar laws recognizing Juneteenth over the past year, but leaders in some local cities still haven’t done the same.
Juneteenth still isn’t a paid holiday for city employees in Sandy Springs, Alpharetta, Roswell, Johns Creek, and Smyrna. Each one is hosting or planning at least one Juneteenth event organized by community members in the coming days, but North Fulton County NAACP President Kay Howell said having local governments enact a law officially recognizing the holiday is still a priority.
“We are very concerned that a federal and state holiday is not being observed,” Howell said. “I know it costs money to have those city government employees have the day off, but is [Juneteenth] where we want to draw the line? Why are we drawing the line there?”
Black Americans have been honoring Juneteenth for decades, but the annual June 19 celebration — commemorating the day in 1865 that former slaves in Galveston, Texas, learned of the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation — didn’t become a federal holiday until a year ago.
The decades-long push to recognize Juneteenth at a national level gained steam following George Floyd’s murder in May 2020. President Joe Biden signed Juneteenth legislation into law more than a year later on June 17, 2021.
Gov. Brian Kemp followed suit in December when he signed a proclamation making Juneteenth an official holiday in the state. Since June 19 falls on a Sunday this year, federal and state government employees will get the day off on June 20, according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Despite getting the governor’s approval, the holiday has become a point of contention in several local areas.
A city government spokesperson confirmed Juneteenth is not currently on Sandy Springs’ holiday calendar, which was approved in November before Kemp made it a holiday at the state level.
“With the recent change to the State of Georgia holiday calendar, the Sandy Springs City Council may choose to review for its 2023 holiday calendar,” Sandy Springs director of communications Jason Fornicola said.
Sandy Springs City Council member Melody Kelley became the first Black person elected to the City Council in November. She said she supports making Juneteenth an official holiday in the city, but noted that there hasn’t been a demand from local residents.
“What I’m personally working on is exploring what sort of community support we have for not just making Juneteenth a paid holiday, but celebrating the holiday,” Kelley said. “Any event or policy around Juneteenth, I want it to be community driven. By community, I mean Black community driven. That is very important to me.”
Kelley is working with community leaders to organize a Juneteenth event ahead of the holiday.
About 20% of Sandys Springs’ population is Black. Bush said city leaders don’t need to wait on members of the community to push for recognizing Juneteenth.
“It’s only natural that we would hope and pray that the leadership of Sandy Springs would take up the mantle,” he said.”
St. James United Methodist Church, a Black church in Alpharetta, is hosting a Juneteenth celebration at Brooke Street Park in the city on June 19 in partnership with local government.
“They’re providing some of the underlying resources, and we’re laying out the programming,” St. James UMC operations director Larry Salter said. “We sat on a committee with the Alpharetta cultural and arts group that is focused on not only doing things for the Black community, but a number of minority communities up here. They began a calendar of what they wanted to celebrate last year. Juneteenth was one of them.”
Salter and other local leaders confirmed Alpharetta hasn’t passed a law recognizing Juneteenth to their knowledge. City government officials haven’t responded to a phone call requesting comment.
Partnering with Black leaders on Juneteenth programming is laudable, but Salter said making Juneteenth an official city holiday is still a priority.
“It’s important for the community that you live in or are associated with to recognize something that is significant to Black people,” he said.
City communications director Bob Mullen confirmed that Johns Creek still hasn’t passed legislation recognizing Juneteenth.
“I really couldn’t officially comment on why. … I think the opportunity is still out there. It just hasn’t been acted on as of today,” he said.
The office of Johns Creek Mayor John Bradberry did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.
Mullen said Impact Johns Creek, a local Black nonprofit group, is in the process of planning a Juneteenth event. The group’s founder and president, Nicole Washington, did not immediately respond to a phone call requesting comment.
The city still hasn’t passed a law recognizing Juneteenth as an official holiday, according to Smyrna community relations director Jennifer Bennett. Bennett said Smyrna employees can take a day off to celebrate Juneteenth by using the city’s “floating holiday” PTO policy.
“Historically the holidays are discussed each year, and this year there were several that came up,” she said. “I think this year a floating holiday was proposed [for Juneteenth] and accepted. It’s up to individuals to make use of that as they see [fit].”
Smyrna Mayor Derek Norton didn’t immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.
Smyrna also is hosting a Juneteenth dinner celebrating the life of Harriet Tubman on June 17. Erica Armstrong Dunbar, author of, “She Came to Slay: The Life and Times of Harriet Tubman,” will speak at the event.
Roswell hasn’t enacted a law making Juneteenth an official holiday, according to city community relations director Julie Brechbill.
Roswell Mayor Kurt Wilson was unavailable for comment in this story. Several local groups and churches are hosting Juneteenth events in the coming days. Among them is Roswell Presbyterian Church, which has organized a Historic Juneteenth celebration on June 19, and Eagles Nest Church in nearby Alpharetta, which is hosting a “Juneteenthfest” celebration of Black fatherhood the same day.
Marietta and Tucker
Marietta and Tucker were two of the remaining Juneteenth holdout communities in metro Atlanta until recently. Marietta Mayor Steve “Thunder” Tumlin previously vetoed Juneteenth legislation passed by the City Council, pointing out that Veterans Day isn’t recognized at the city level.
“I’d hate to do one and not the other,” Tumlin said during an April City Council meeting. “Veterans Day is awfully important.”
Two weeks later, Tumlin changed course when the council voted to recognize both Juneteenth and Veterans Day.
Tucker followed suit in early May.