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Covington makes Juneteenth paid holiday, replacing Presidents Day

Move impacts non-union employees
Posted at 7:17 PM, Feb 21, 2022

COVINGTON, Ky. — Covington's City Hall remained open Monday despite the Presidents Day holiday after the city commission voted last week to observe Juneteenth as a paid holiday for employees instead.

“It’s important to recognize our history and the history in our country with the issue,” said Mayor Pro Tem Ron Washington, who led the charge on this change. “And I believe that by making it a holiday in our city of Covington, it acknowledges that. I think it’s very important.”

Juneteenth celebrates the emancipation of Black slaves. Specifically, the day marks when the final enslaved people in Texas learned they were free on June 19, 1865. Juneteenth became officially recognized as a federal holiday by President Joe Biden in 2021.

For lifelong Covington resident Robbie Williams, the decision by city leaders is important.

“To me, it’s a big deal, it’s all I can say. It’s a big deal,” she said. “It shows (city leaders) are trying to be diverse, to work with us to learn our culture. And this is a first step.”

Williams is a member and directress of the civil liberties department of the IBPO Elks of the World, a black fraternal organization founded by Covington resident Benjamin F. Howard in 1899. A historic marker honors Howard in Covington.

She said she is hopeful the change in Covington will spark more education about the history of Juneteenth. She said growing up, she didn’t care for history.

“The reason I probably didn’t like it: I wasn’t in it. Blacks weren’t in it. The only way we were in it was telling us we were slaves,” Williams said. “We’re here to teach and we’re here to learn and the only way you’re going to do it is tell the truth.”

Mayor Joe Meyer said the decision follows a trend by the city to be more inclusive and diverse.

“Covington has been working (on inclusion) for 18 years now,” Meyer said. "But as you know, things take time.”

Covington was the first Northern Kentucky city to pass an LGBTQ Fairness ordinance in 2003. More recently, it passed the Crown Act, which prohibits discrimination based on hairstyle and texture. Meyer said these steps and more have helped attract more residents and businesses to the city. He hopes other cities in the area will follow suit.

“Our attitude towards diversity and inclusion is a very positive element of economic development," Meyer said. "So the more that Northern Kentucky can adopt similar values and proudly promote them, the more it opens up economic development opportunities throughout the region."

Yahya Abdul-Hafeez, who is also a lifelong Covington resident and member of Elks of the World, said he also supported the decision by city leaders.

“It gave me a good feeling on the inside to see that Covington is beginning to recognize its Black community,” he said.

However, he believes more areas should do the same.

“I think it’s an important step, a first step. And hopefully one of many,” Abdul-Hafeez said. “And I think not only should Covington recognize this, but also you’ve got surrounding communities like Fort Thomas, which was fortified by black soldiers, Fort Wright, which was fortified by black soldiers. We have a lot of different contributions that black men and black soldiers have made in this area.”

Other Kentucky cities including Lexington and Louisville are recognizing Juneteenth as a paid holiday for government employees.

Right now, this only affects non-union employees in Covington. City Hall will be closed on Monday, June 20 in recognition of Juneteenth.

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