02-04-2023  1:10 pm   •   PDX and SEA Weather
William Reed
Published: 18 January 2011

Question: How much does it cost the federal government for a holiday? Answer: It is estimated that every federal holiday costs taxpayers about half a billion dollars in wages paid to the country's 3 million federal employees. There are 10 annual federal holidays. On a federal holiday non-essential federal government offices are closed. All federal employees are paid for the holiday; those who are required to work on the holiday sometimes receive holiday pay in addition to their ordinary wages.

In 1983, the Senate and House of Representatives voted that beginning in 1986 the third Monday of January become a national holiday commemorating the birthday of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. The idea of Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a holiday was promoted by labor unions in contract negotiations. After King's death, Detroit Congressman John Conyers introduced a bill in Congress to make King's birthday a national holiday. Two of the main arguments mentioned by opponents were that a paid holiday for federal employees would be too expensive and that a holiday to honor a private citizen would be contrary to longstanding tradition because King never held public office. Led by Coretta Scott-King the MLK Center sought support from the general public and corporate community and initiated the largest petition drive in favor of an issue in U.S. history. They collected six million signatures and the impetus for Congress to pass the law.

Now three decades after congressional passage of the MLJ Holiday, a new movement: "The Campaign to Establish Juneteenth as a National Holiday Observance" is lobbying for legislation to commemorate Juneteenth National Freedom Day, officially marking the "19th of June" as America's 11th annual holiday and "2nd Independence Day". In a letter to Speaker of the House John Boehner, Rev. Ronald V. Myers, Sr. said that in the reading of the U.S. Constitution to open the 112th Congress "omission of the reading of the three-fifths clause leaves open the question of the importance of slavery and the significance Americans of African descent played in the building of America." Myers wants recent and long-time omissions of debts due descendents of slaves be corrected by the Congress.

Juneteenth is also known as Freedom or Emancipation Day and is already a holiday that commemorates the announcement of the abolition of slavery in the State of Texas in 1865. Celebrated on June 19, the term is a portmanteau of June and nineteenth, is recognized as a holiday in 36 states. It was on June 19th, 1865 that Union soldiers, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. This was two and a half years after President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation - which had become official January 1, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact in Texas due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the Executive Order. However, with the surrender of General Lee in April of 1865, and the arrival of General Granger's regiment forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance.

In his letter to Boehner, Myers points out that the Capitol and White House were built through uncompensated slave labor, but compared to the political influence and petition gathering prowess of Coretta Scott King, Reverend Doctor Ronald V. Myers is a one-man band. Like the backing the MLK people had from labor unions, Myers & Co. will need to show how to make the holiday pay for itself. Local "improvement associations" could come together with businesses in hospitality and entertainment industries to make lucrative events happen among "the grassroots" from neighborhoods, to churches, to shopping and community centers and beyond. Local people can design ways to make family fare holiday events that includes special shows, outdoor concerts and food events.

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MLK Breakfast 2023

Photos from The Skanner Foundation's 37th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Breakfast.