Mebane’s city council voted unanimously Monday night to add Juneteenth – celebrated on June 19 – as a new paid holiday for city employees. It becomes the 13th paid holiday for Mebane municipal employees.
About a half-dozen Mebane residents spoke at a public hearing on the holiday and another half-dozen had sent emails to city council members expressing support for adding the holiday.
Juneteenth had been a relatively obscure or unknown holiday, except within the black community, until last year, when Congress established it as a federal holiday.
Locally, Gibsonville, Elon, and Green Level have adopted the holiday, according to information provided to Mebane’s city council. Gibsonville’s board of aldermen added the holiday last year in July shortly after the federal action last June, and Elon’s board of aldermen voted to establish it earlier this year.
Now celebrated on June 19, the date’s significance stems from the date in 1865 on which news of the emancipation reached Texas, the last state of the Confederacy to have unemancipated slaves. It took that long for word of the Emancipation Proclamation, issued January 1, 1863 by president Abraham Lincoln, to reach Texas after the end of the War Between the States in April of 1865.
Mebane has had nine holidays over 12 days, according to Beatrice Hunter, the city’s human resources director, who explained to the council that the city’s 12 paid holidays include one extra at Thanksgiving (the Friday after, in addition to Thanksgiving Day), as well as two extra at Christmas. The federal government has 11 days (one for each actual holiday), Hunter explained, while the state of North Carolina has 12.
The council heard a brief history on the evolution of Juneteenth from Dr. Iris Chapman, a retired professor from Elon University who lives in Mebane. “It is the preeminent day for celebrating the end of slavery,” Chapman said.
All but one speaker was black and all emphasized the importance of the holiday particularly in the black community. Four speakers were from the city’s Racial Equity Advisory Commitee established last year: Stuart Smith, the lone white member; Erica Bluford, the most recent appointee; her mother and REAC co-chairman Keisha Bluford; and Travis Albritton, the other REAC co-chairman.
Mebane resident Wilma Crisp told the council she was concerned that the public hearing that was scheduled at the April council meeting, to be held in May, made it “sound like [the city] was looking for an excuse not [to adopt the Juneteenth holiday].” It was somewhat unclear whether she was referring to the existing celebration of the future paid holiday as “a bone thrown to the black community.”
“Not all people were made free on July 4,” said Erica Bluford; having a paid holiday would recognize “that the abolition of slavery is significant to the heritage of our city.” She also suggested that such a holiday could be a “potential draw” for additional employers to locate in the city.
Erica Bluford also stressed that Juneteenth “should be important to all people,” not just the black community.
Her mother, Keisha Bluford, said the Juneteenth “shouldn’t be any less recognized than July 4.”
Albritton questioned “Why did it take so long” to establish a paid holiday to celebrate Juneteenth.
Iza Reyes, who described herself as of a Filipino background, referred to “Mebane’s checkered history in race relations and on the impact of implicit bias.” She said Mebane did not recognize its impact on minority neighborhoods.
The cost for the extra paid holiday had several definitions. At last month’s meeting, the amount was put at $48,145, which city manager Chris Rollins explained was the city’s average payroll cost for each day of the year.
This month’s city council agenda packet, however, listed the cost as “none,” with a further explanation: “The city had budgeted to pay the full year of wages for full time workers, whether paid as regular hours or as holiday hours.”
Alamance News publisher Tom Boney, Jr. questioned which was the accurate financial impact. Rollins accepted responsibility for the conflicting calculations.
Rollins said that since he did not anticipate authorizing any overtime for those workers who must work on Juneteenth, he had come to the conclusion that the holiday had no budgetary impact, which is how the “none” explanation had been included in this month’s background materials for the city council.
Boney responded that if the assumption was there was no fiscal impact from establishing a new holiday for Juneteenth, that same logic could be applied to “lot and lots” of additional holidays. “It doesn’t seem reasonable,” Boney said, “to assume that there is ‘no cost.’”
He questioned whether the city was being transparent about the actual cost impact of a new holiday.
The vote to establish the Juneteenth holiday as a paid Mebane holiday was unanimous, 5-0.