NBC News, April 27, 2021
Hawaii was poised to become the 49th state to recognize Juneteenth after the House and Senate on Tuesday passed legislation designating June 19 as a day to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States.
If Hawaii’s governor signs the bill, South Dakota would be the only remaining state that doesn’t recognize the day as either a state holiday or a day of observance. South Dakota’s Senate passed a measure earlier this year that would observe the day, but the bill didn’t make it through the House. In North Dakota, the governor on April 12 signed legislation designating it a ceremonial holiday.
Hawaii Gov. David Ige hasn’t indicated his plans for the bill, which will not make the day a state holiday.
Akiemi Glenn, the founder and executive director of the Popolo Project, said the legislation is a way of honoring the ancestors of Hawaii’s Black people.
“There’s a recognition that we’re here and that we’re part of Hawaii,” Glenn said.
Popolo is the Hawaiian word for a plant with dark purple or black berries. The word has also come to refer to Black people. The Popolo Project is a community organization that aims to help redefine what it means to be Black in Hawaii and to help Black community members connect with one another and the larger community.
The Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in the South in 1863. But it wasn’t enforced in many places until after the end of the Civil War two years later. Word of the Confederacy’s surrender didn’t reach the last enslaved Black people until June 19, when Union soldiers brought news of freedom to Galveston, Texas.
She suspects Hawaii has been slow to recognize the day in part because the state’s Black population is relatively small. U.S. Census Bureau data has Black people at 3.6 percent of the population.