A proposal to add Juneteenth as a paid city holiday and rename the day after Thanksgiving to Ho-Chunk Day gained support from Madison’s Finance Committee Monday.
The ordinance amendment would ensure all city employees receive paid time off on June 19. The day recognizes the date in 1865, nearly two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, when enslaved African Americans in Texas learned of their freedom. Employees who have to work that day would receive overtime pay.
Ald. Jael Currie, District 16, said she celebrates the proposal as a Black Madisonian and as a first term alder elected after a historic election of BIPOC elected officials.
"As a Black Madisonian that didn’t learn about Juneteenth and its historical significance for Black Americans until my late adolescence, I appreciate the city’s action to provide opportunities for all Madisonians to learn more about the past to better understand the experiences that have shaped the United States," Currie said in an email.
But she also said the city should follow up on public acknowledgements like this with "meaningful action and policy."
"Black Americans are still awaiting reparations. We’re still waiting for criminal justice reform that stops disproportionately killing and/or locking up our brothers and sisters," Currie said. "In Madison, we’re still waiting for equitable access to housing and education."
Madison’s proposal, which received unanimous consent from the committee, follows Dane County adding Juneteenth as a paid holiday last year, and the federal government designating the day as a legal public holiday last month. The City Council will take up the proposal next.
“We want to be part of the change,” City Council President Syed Abbas said.
The state of Wisconsin has not added Juneteenth as a paid holiday, though Gov. Tony Evers attempted to include it in his 2021 budget proposal. The measure was removed by the Republican-controlled Legislature.
Ald. Sheri Carter, District 14, called the proposed city holiday “significant.”
“It’s not about celebrating slavery. It’s about celebrating freedom and that is something that this whole nation needs to do,” Carter said.
City employees already receive a paid holiday on the day after Thanksgiving. Those who would need to work that day are paid overtime and can save the holiday to use at some other point in the year.
Council Vice President Arvina Martin, who is the first Native American to sit on Madison’s City Council, said the proposed name change is an opportunity to “create another day to think about our history.”
She said it’s a “clear choice,” especially considering the federal government’s recent action, and a chance to remind the community of the Ho-Chunk people’s history and culture.
“I’m hoping that this name change will help as a small part in not only just improving relations between the city of Madison and the Ho-Chunk Nation, but to also be another small part of making sure people who live here know the history of this area and know that this is traditional Ho-Chunk land,” Martin said. “We’ve lived here from time immemorial and remain here, and Ho-Chunk people will always be in this area.”
The resolution acknowledges the history of the Ho-Chunk people, who were the first residents of Madison. They built effigy mounds in the area, which they called Teejop or Four Lakes, that were later destroyed when the city was developed.
In 1849, the federal government began forcibly removing the Ho-Chunk and removed them from Wisconsin, according to the resolution. They returned on foot to the state to live as refugees, and in 1875, were allowed to settle on unwanted lands.
The Ho-Chunk are the only tribe in Wisconsin who do not have a formal reservation. They are now one of Wisconsin’s 11 federally recognized tribes.