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Mississippi Closed State Offices For Confederate Holiday, But Not Juneteenth

Shuwaski Young speaking to a crowd seated in church pews
“In Mississippi, Confederate Memorial Day and Confederate Heritage Month are recognized by the Governor, and statewide offices are closed—even though these so-called holidays are not federal holidays. But, on Juneteenth, a federal holiday, statewide offices remained open today,” Shuwaski Young, a Democratic candidate for Mississippi secretary of state, said on June 19, 2023. He is seen here speaking about voting at Greater Mt. Calvary M.B. Church in Carthage, Miss., on June 11, 2023. Photo courtesy Shuwaski Young/Twitter

State offices remained open in Mississippi during the Juneteenth federal holiday, which commemorates the emancipation of enslaved Black Americans, almost two months after officials closed state offices to celebrate the Confederate Memorial Day state holiday on April 24.

Shuwaski Young, a Democratic candidate for secretary of state, criticized the decision in a Juneteenth statement.

“In Mississippi, Confederate Memorial Day and Confederate Heritage Month are recognized by the governor and statewide offices are closed—even though these so-called holidays are not federal holidays,” he said. “But on Juneteenth, a federal holiday, statewide offices remained open today. Not closing all state offices on Juneteenth sends a message that here in Mississippi, we don’t respect Juneteenth, and we do not recognize the importance and sanctity of this day. Furthermore, it speaks volumes to the Republicans’ misguided statewide leadership, lack of respect for Black Mississippians and our country’s history.”

Asked about Young’s criticisms, Gov. Tate Reeves’ office sent the Mississippi Free Press a statement this afternoon in response.

“Juneteenth is not a state holiday in Mississippi. State holidays are set by statute and thus would need to go through the legislative process before being sent to the governor for consideration,” the governor’s office said.

Gov. Tate Reeves at a podium
Gov. Tate Reeves’ office said in a June 19, 2023, statement that state offices are not closed for Juneteenth because it “is not a state holiday in Mississippi” and that the Legislature would have to send a bill to his desk for consideration in order to change that. During the 2023 legislative session alone, eight Juneteenth bills died.

President Joe Biden signed a law making Juneteenth a federal holiday in 2021. Efforts to make Juneteenth a state holiday, including eight bills this year alone, have failed. Four bills that would have removed the statutory Confederate Memorial Day holiday from state law also failed this session. Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves publicly acknowledged Juneteenth once in a 2020 tweet.

“Today, we celebrate Juneteenth—the day we recognize the emancipation of slaves. We should always remember our history. We should confront it and work to improve. Today, we honor the people who have worked to make our country more free and just for all,” the governor wrote three years ago. He has not since publicly commemorated the day nor backed efforts to make it a state holiday.

But since taking office in 2020, Reeves has issued annual proclamations declaring April as Confederate Heritage Month, following a tradition that began in 1993 at the behest of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. His office told WAPT in 2021 that he signed the proclamation “because he believes we can all learn from our history.”

Black residents make up 38% of Mississippi’s population, more than in any other state. Despite that, the state only has one Black representative in Congress and has not elected any Black leaders to the U.S. Senate or statewide office since before the end of Reconstruction in the late 1800s. From 1894 until 2020, the flag that flew over the state included the Confederate symbol. That year, amid Black Lives Matter protests, the Legislature passed a bill retiring the old state flag and Gov. Tate Reeves signed it into law, reversing his prior opposition to doing so legislatively.

For other stories about the Mississippi flag, anti-CRT and DEI efforts and much more, visit the MFP’s Race & Racism archive.

Correction: This story originally said Mississippi celebrated Confederate Memorial Day on April 27, 2023; the holiday was on April 24, 2023.

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