The U.S. Senate passed a resolution on Tuesday to establish June 19 the Juneteenth National Independence Day, a federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.
To become a federal holiday, it must be approved by the House of Representatives and signed by the president.
That holiday has been an official state holiday in Kentucky since 2005 and is codified in Kentucky Revised Statute 2.147.
Juneteenth began in Texas and marks the anniversary of Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger telling slaves in Galveston in 1865 that they had been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863.
The Emancipation Proclamation declared that slaves in Confederacy-controlled areas were freed. The Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — ratified on Dec. 6, 1865, and proclaimed on Dec. 18 of that year — abolished slavery and involuntary solitude except as punishment for crimes.
Paducah has had its own emancipation celebration for more than 100 years, called the Eighth of August, named for when people in the area first heard of the Emancipation Proclamation.
It was mentioned in The Paducah Sun as early as 1890 as a regular celebration known then as Emancipation Proclamation Day and celebrated at Fountain Park.
This year’s celebration will be the 46th hosted by the W.C. Young Community Center. The schedule of events is coordinated by the center’s board of directors.
Would a federal Juneteenth holiday affect the local Eighth of August celebration?
Marvin Nunn, the president of the W.C. Young Community Center Board, said an emphatic no.
“It never has,” he said. “Juneteenth has been going on for many, many years, but here in Paducah, we’ve always celebrated the Eighth of August as though it was Juneteenth.”
Nunn said different areas celebrate different days as the end of American slavery based on when they first heard about the Emancipation Proclamation, and will likely continue to celebrate those dates more than Juneteenth.
“People — especially in Texas, Oklahoma and states like that — they’ve always celebrated Juneteenth,” he said, “but here in this area — western Kentucky and southern Illinois — we’ve always celebrated the Eighth of August. We’re not going to move to Juneteenth.
“But, if I’m out in those areas (that celebrate Juneteenth), I’ll celebrate with them. If I’m in Texas in June, I’ll celebrate Juneteenth with those guys.”
This year’s Eighth of August celebration will be Aug. 4-8 and will include a parade and a car show at Coleman Park. Traditionally, when Aug. 8 falls on a Sunday (as it does this year), the main celebrations are held on Aug. 7.
Events for last year’s Eighth of August celebration were held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Information about the celebration is provided at the W.C. Young Community Center page on Facebook as it becomes available.