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Juneteenth to become official city holiday in Tempe in 2022

The Tempe City Council voted unanimously to make Juneteenth a paid city holiday to celebrate Black history, liberation of enslaved people

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Juneteenth is now an annual city holiday in Tempe. 


The City of Tempe voted unanimously to make Juneteenth an official annual city holiday on March 3. Juneteenth celebrates the liberation of the last enslaved people from Texas, two and a half years after the Civil War ended. 

The holiday was first recognized by the city in 2020 when former Tempe Mayor Mark Mitchell declared it a paid holiday that year. This vote certifies it as an annual holiday scheduled for the Monday after June 19 every year. The Biden administration declared Juneteenth a national holiday in 2021. 

"I'm excited to see the City of Tempe take this forward-thinking step," Tempe Mayor Corey Woods said in a press release. "I appreciate both former Mayor Mark Mitchell's leadership and that of the federal government in laying the groundwork for this."

Michelle Brooks-Totress, chair of the Tempe History Museum's African American Advisory Committee, said making Juneteenth a holiday will help educate people on the meaning of the holiday and on Black history. 

"People that want to learn will investigate, will reach out and ask questions, and we just want to make sure that information is available," Brooks-Totress said. "Our mission is to make sure those who do want to educate themselves, do want to learn the stories, know more about different people in the community. The information is there."

The committee has been celebrating Juneteenth for nearly a decade with the Tempe History Museum. The committee was formed in 2008 and has been telling stories of national and local Black history.  

The celebration of Juneteenth includes food, live music and educational activities for both children and adults. 

"We have education for the children, because they specifically don't understand the importance, and some adults do not as well, of why we celebrate Juneteenth," Brooks-Totress said. "We have now got people to understand that this is important and we need to celebrate it."

Tempe is not alone in the Valley in celebrating Juneteenth. Cities like Chandler, Scottsdale and Goodyear celebrate the holiday. But Tempe is the first city in the Valley to make it into an official paid holiday.

Brooks-Totress credited Tempe for being "ahead of the curve" with Juneteenth and said the city has supported the Juneteenth celebration at the museum more each year since it began and it is planning another celebration this year.

Curtis Austin, associate professor in the ASU School of Philosophical Historical and Religious Studies, who specializes in African American studies and civil rights, said certifying the holiday is substantial and shows the city government is acting on its progressive ideas. 

"It shows the progressive intent of city leaders, and business leaders for that manner, that we are now entering an era where people are comfortable wrestling with these really tough ideas around race," Austin said. "I think it's significant, politically, economically and socially. It helps outsiders to see that, 'Hey, I'm moving to a place that gets it.'"

Lauren Kuby, a Tempe city councilmember, thinks it is important to celebrate the holiday and highlight its history. She said the city wants to have holidays like Juneteenth on or near the actual date in order to properly recognize it.

"We really recognize the importance of this day and have discussions in our city and honor those lives that were sacrificed and recognize our history of an original sin of slavery in our country and talk about all the white supremacy and racism institutionalized in our country today," Kuby said.

Austin said the holiday could be a uniting force, and that it could be a holiday for all kinds of members of the community as celebrations continue.

"I have certainly been Hispanic on Cinco de Mayo, and I might as well be Irish on St. Patrick's Day. I'm saying five to 10 years from now, if the community gets involved in the ways described, everybody will see Juneteenth as their holiday and it won't just be a Black thing," Austin said.


Reach the reporter at sbrenna5@asu.edu and @shanebrennan36 on Twitter

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Shane BrennanPolitics Reporter

Shane Brennan is a politics reporter. He previously was a sports writer, and is currently working with Blaze Radio and Downtown Devil.


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