Last year, Sen. Sylvia Santana (D-Detroit) sponsored Senate Bill 50 to permanently designate Juneteenth — the day that marks the liberation of Black Americans who remained enslaved in the years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation — as a state holiday in Michigan.

This year, a little over a year after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed Sen. Santana’s bill into law, Michigan Senate Democrats are celebrating Juneteenth and recognizing its importance as a symbol of hope, prosperity and freedom.

Honoring Black History: The Story of Juneteenth

Throughout the Civil War, Black Americans played a crucial role in the fight for their freedom. However, the stark contrast in the roles enslaved Americans played on either side of the Civil War highlights the complexities and ironies of the war, with Black Americans in the Union seeing the war as a path to emancipation, while those in the Confederacy struggled for survival under oppression.

The Emancipation Proclamation, issued by President Lincoln on January 1, 1863, declared all enslaved people in Confederate states to be free, though enforcement lagged until after the war ended. On June 19, 1865, Union Army General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, announcing the freedom of the last enslaved people, marking the first Juneteenth.

Celebrated as the oldest known commemoration of the end of slavery in America, Juneteenth has evolved into a nationwide celebration of Black culture and history. It is a day of reflection and rejoicing, marked by community gatherings, educational events, music, food, and dance, serving as a reminder of the enduring struggle for equality and justice, and honoring the resilience and contributions of Black Americans to the nation’s history and culture.

Black Representation and Excellence in the Michigan Legislature

In 1892 — 27 years after the first Juneteenth — William W. Ferguson became the first Black American to win election to the Michigan Legislature. He served two terms in the House of Representatives. While it wasn’t until 1976 that the Michigan Legislative Black Caucus (MLBC) was formed, it was Rep. Ferguson’s election that set in motion what stands today as a coalition of 30 state legislators from the House and Senate committed to ensuring all Michigan residents have equal opportunities.

Currently, the Senate has three members in the MLBC — Sens. Santana, Erika Geiss (D-Taylor) and Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing). 

(From left to right) Sens. Geiss, Anthony and Santana talk to the press following the Senate passage of the CROWN Act.

With Sens. Santana, Geiss and Anthony leading the charge, Senate Democrats have passed several impactful pieces of legislation and made meaningful and historic budget investments aimed at supporting and uplifting Black Michiganders and communities.

Sen. Santana has been a driving force in advancing and uplifting Black Michiganders, and the concerns and voices of Black communities in the state. Beyond her leadership in establishing Juneteenth as a state holiday, she has sponsored critical legislation such as Senate Bills 600 and 601, which strengthen Michigan’s hate crime laws in response to an alarming number of hate crime incidents in Michigan. With Sen. Santana’s legislation, Senate Democrats are continuing the two-decades-long fight to better protect Michiganders around the state from hate crimes. 

Additionally, Sen. Santana was a lead sponsor on the Filter First legislation, passed in 2023. This legislation protects Michigan children from lead and other harmful metals in drinking water — addressing a critical issue neglected by Republican majorities in the wake of the Flint water crisis. 

Sen. Santana stands with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer following the signing of Senate Bill 88 into law.

As Chair of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services appropriations subcommittee, Sen. Santana has prioritized directing budget resources to uplift marginalized communities statewide, further cementing her role in ensuring all Michiganders — regardless of their race or zip code — can access care and have the resources they need to lead healthy, happy lives.

Sen. Geiss has been a tireless advocate for Black Michiganders, driving significant legislative efforts to improve their lives and communities. As Chair of the Michigan Legislative Black Caucus and the first Black female to serve as Assistant President Pro Tempore in the Michigan Senate, she has consistently demonstrated her dedication to equity and justice.

Sen. Geiss is the lead sponsor of the MI Momnibus legislation, a comprehensive package designed to enhance community-driven programs, prenatal care and maternal healthcare. This initiative specifically amplifies the voices and needs of Black birthing people, mothers, and families.

Her commitment to democratic principles is evident in her work to expand election security and voting rights. Collaborating with the Secretary of State and other Democratic senators, Sen. Geiss has played a crucial role in developing the Michigan Voting Rights Act (MVRA). This legislation aims to ensure that every Michigander, regardless of race, sexual orientation, religion or socioeconomic background, has their voice heard and protected in the electoral process. 

Sen. Geiss sits next to Sen. Darrin Camilleri (D-Trenton) at a Michigan Voting Rights Summit.

Sen. Geiss has also sought to address the disproportionate impact of climate change and environmental injustices on Black and marginalized communities through her work on the Clean Energy Future legislation. By sponsoring a bill to establish a 100% clean energy standard for Michigan, she aims to protect the state’s air, land and water. This initiative is set to reduce reliance on foreign fuel, lower consumer costs, and create tens of thousands of good-paying jobs, ensuring a sustainable and prosperous future for all Michiganders.

Sen. Anthony has proven herself to be a true champion for Black Michiganders, advocating for their rights and community well-being through impactful legislation. As the first Black female Senate Appropriations Chair, she has utilized her historic position — working alongside Sens. Geiss, Santana and the entire Democratic Caucus — to secure transformative investments in the state budget aimed at improving the lives of Black residents statewide. 

Sen. Sarah Anthony stands alongside her new portrait that will hang in the State Capitol. Photo Credit: Jessica Case, Michigan Senate Democrats.

On June 20, 2023, Gov. Whitmer signed into law Sen. Anthony’s Senate Bill 90, known as the CROWN Act. This legislation addresses workplace discrimination by protecting natural hairstyles like braids, locks, twists, and knots, ensuring equitable treatment for Michigan residents.

Additionally, Sen. Anthony sponsored Senate Bill 632, which aims to cap payday lending interest rates at 36% APR. This measure brings Michigan in line with progressive practices adopted by 20 other states and the District of Columbia, combating exploitative lending practices that disproportionately affect low-income and marginalized communities, including people of color.

Sen. Anthony’s tenure as Senate Appropriations Chair has been marked by historic investments that uplift underserved communities, solidifying her legacy as a leader committed to advancing fairness and equality for everyone in the state. This year, she plans to prioritize expanding access to high-quality, affordable housing for people from all walks of life, improving college affordability, and investing in early childhood education in the Fiscal Year 2025 budget.

The significance of Juneteenth extends beyond its historical roots. It symbolizes triumph over the injustices of slavery and stands as a testament to the progress made and the work still needed to achieve true freedom and equality for all. This Juneteenth — and every day of the year — Senate Democrats remain dedicated to the ongoing pursuit of civil rights and equality for every Michigander.

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