MONTGOMERY — The House of Representatives passed a bill on Thursday that would recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday that state workers could recognize in lieu of Jefferson Davis' birthday.  

House Bill 4 (HB4) by State Rep. Juandalynn Givan (D-Birmingham) would officially make Juneteenth a statewide holiday. Unlike other state holidays, Juneteenth would not mandate closing state offices. Instead, state offices would be compelled to create policies allowing employees to select to celebrate either Juneteenth or Davis's birthday.

Juneteenth, also called Jubilee Day or Black Independence Day, is named after the events on June 19, 1865, after the end of the Civil War, when nearly 2,000 Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas, to announce the emancipation of the enslaved people in the South.

In previous years, Democratic legislators have attempted similar legislation. However, it often came with the removal of the state's recognition of the birthday of Jefferson Davis, the first and only president of the Confederacy.

Givan presented the bill on the House floor, giving a two-minute history of the holiday and its significance. She said that the bill "is not perfect" and resulted from a compromise with House members who were concerned over too many state holidays, which currently sits at 13. The bill was amended from its original version to match a bill by State Rep. Chris Sells (R-Greenville).

"It is not a perfect bill, but it is one that will at least be put on the books as a state Holiday," Givan said.

State Rep. Rick Rehm (R-Dothan) announced his support of the legislation, saying he has "an appreciation of the history" of Juneteenth.

"I see it as a Republican holiday because the Emancipation Proclamation was presented by Abraham Lincoln, a Republican," Rehm said. I know full well the history of the Emancipation part, created in 1872, down in Galveston, where they started this celebration as it spread. You know, it's a very valid, worthy holiday, and I want to give my support for that."

House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville) commended Givan and Sells for working together to meld the two bills into one that the majority of the House could agree on.

State Rep. Chris England (R-Tuscaloosa) previously introduced legislation to remove Davis's birthday as a state holiday. England said he appreciated the bill but found its compromise hard to swallow.

"Black Americans often have to accept really big compromises in order to get very small progress," England said. "As it stands for me, and I may be speaking for myself, Jefferson Davis is not a hero to me. The rest of the United States of America treats him as history does. For us, some of the comments and the beliefs that he carried about black people, in my mind, make him reprehensible and not worthy of praise. And, as a state, I say this all the time, we often continue to let the dead bury the living here. And his spirit and the holiday that he carries casts a great cloud over the future of this state."

The bill passed 83-0 with 10 abstentions. England joined several members across party lines in abstaining from the vote.

After the bill passed, Givan told reporters she believed that the makeup of the House body was responsible for the bill passing when it had failed in years past.

The bill now heads to the Senate for debate and deliberation. 

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