Fentrice Driskell to close office in observance of Juneteenth, calls for confederate holiday repeals

Fentrice Driskell Photo
Driskell said it's high time Juneteenth be properly honored.

Rep. Fentrice Driskell is closing her office Friday in recognition of Juneteenth, a holiday celebrating the emancipation of slaves in the U.S. on June 19, 1865.

This year is the 155th anniversary of federal troops arriving in Galveston, Texas to inform enslaved African Americans they were now free.

Though the announcement came more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the emancipation proclamation, slaves in Galveston were the last to learn of their new freedom, marking the unofficial end of slavery in the United States.

“It is past time for the state of Florida and the federal government to recognize Juneteenth as a legal holiday. While Juneteenth is a Day of Observance in our state, that recognition does not rise to the status of a legal holiday and simply is not enough,” Driskell said.

“The celebration of the birthday of Jefferson Davis, the birthday of Robert E. Lee, and Confederate Memorial Day as legal holidays is a slight to all Floridians who believe in justice, fairness, and equality.”

She added, “It is disparaging to the descendants of the slaves who were dragged from their homeland and forced to endure inhumanities untold to build our state and our country. No world should exist in which these Confederate holidays are elevated above the contributions of these slaves, their descendants, and those who fought for their freedom.”

This year’s Juneteenth is getting more mainstream attention than the holiday traditionally affords as people nationwide take a hard look at ongoing systemic racism.

Attention grew when President Donald Trump planned a rally for June 19, drawing criticism that he was co-opting the holiday. He later moved the rally to June 20 and later claimed, by doing so, he made the holiday famous.

For years, cities across Florida and the nation have grappled with moving confederate monuments with those opposed arguing they are symbols of racism and oppression and those in favor that they are historic markers that should not be erased.

More and more though, those symbols are being removed or relegated to private property, honoring calls to stop glamorizing the confederate cause.

Removing the monuments, to some, is not enough.

“This is why next session I intend to introduce legislation to repeal the Confederate holidays that are official legal holidays in Florida,” Driskell said. “Repealing the statutes that provide for the celebration of these holidays is one of the many ways Florida can affirm the importance of black history and the promise that in America, all persons are equally entitled to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.”

“I implore my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to join this effort to collectively say that the celebration of Confederate holidays has no place in Florida’s present or its future,” she added.

Some current confederate holidays in Florida include Robert E. Lee’s birthday. On January 19, Confederate Memorial Day on April 26 and Jefferson Davis’ birthday on June 3.

Janelle Irwin Taylor

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in Tampa Bay since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as senior reporter for WMNF News. Janelle has a lust for politics and policy. When she’s not bringing you the day’s news, you might find Janelle enjoying nature with her husband, children and two dogs. You can reach Janelle at [email protected].

One comment

  • Andrew P.

    June 18, 2020 at 8:32 pm

    Ms. Driskell:
    1. You harp on the “inhumanity” of people being “dragged from their homeland” to build this state and country. You state that a world should not exist where Confederate holidays are elevated above the contributions of slaves and their descendants. It is one thing to talk about and to honor the slaves themselves. It is quite another to do so regarding “descendants.” It is a slippery slope from that to the “reparations” that some seek. Respectfully, the slaves themselves are long deceased. Many generations of descendants live and have opportunities to prosper on their own and with the help of legislation that has fostered their advancement. What’s necessary is to stop whining, stop attempting to erase history, and mostly, to stop blaming other people things that happened 150+ years ago.

    2. I agree that slavery was an abomination. There have been lots of abominations throughout history but they do not need to get erased from history because they make a select few feel bad. It is not unlike the drumbeat periodically heard about the Holocaust. It was an abomination, too, but one that unfortunately occurred and is now over.
    You were elected to represent all of your constituents, not merely the very sensitive ones. Don’t make this a career issue like the Holocaust sometimes is–it cheapens the issue by making it a political one.
    And while you are at it, tell all of your constituents that riots in the streets, stealing and destroying the property of others, and otherwise acting in an uncivilized way is not endearing to the cause.
    3. Finally, I would think that you and your staff are either forfeiting a proportionate part of your salary for the day off or using it as part of annual leave? After all, no one will be around to serve the needs of the rest of your constituency.

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