Gladstone unanimously passes Juneteenth holiday resolution
State Rep. Mark Meek, D-Gladstone/Oregon City, sang "Lift Every Voice and Sing," often called the Black National Anthem, as Gladstone city councilors on Tuesday, June 8, unanimously passed a resolution to recognize Juneteenth as an official holiday.
Milwaukie and Oregon City's elected officials are scheduled next week to pass Juneteenth resolutions.
Most states have given June 19 official recognition, but Oregon is among only four to make it a legal holiday. Also known as Emancipation Day, Jubilee Day and Freedom Day, Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when news of the Emancipation Proclamation was brought to Galveston, Texas, leading to celebration among former slaves.
Meek's rendition of "Lift Every Voice and Sing" reprised his performance from the unanimous Oregon House vote on June 2, the day after the Senate passed the amended version. The song's words were written by James Weldon Johnson for the 1905 commemoration of Abraham Lincoln's birthday.
"We all know we are still dealing with systemic racism and racial discrimination in our country," said Meek, 57, one of a record nine members of color in the House. "But each time injustice has reared its ugly head, it has been met with resistance.
"Slavery was met with the work of abolitionists. Jim Crow was met with the civil rights movement. The rise of racially discriminatory police violence is now being met with strong affirmation that Black lives matter."
Gladstone Councilor Annessa Hartman requested this month's agenda item to recognize Juneteenth as an annual holiday, saying that it would send a strong message to the city's Black and African American residents that they matter. Last July, Clackamas County commissioners established Juneteenth as a holiday, and encouraged cities across the county to follow suit. Oregon lawmakers plan to make it a paid holiday starting in 2022, pending negotiations with state employees.
Although Oregon was admitted to the Union in 1859 as an anti-slavery state, its 1857 Constitution also specified that Blacks were unwelcome. Voters repealed that section in 1926 and removed all racial references in 2002. Juneteenth will become Oregon's 10th official state holiday, although not until 2022.
The proclamation, issued by President Abraham Lincoln, freed slaves in the 11 Confederate states as of Jan. 1, 1863. Slavery itself was abolished by the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in December 1865.
Meek captivated onlookers when he sang "O Sole Mio" on the floor of the Oregon House of Representatives in 2017. He had been previously known for his soft-spoken political debate during legislative committee meetings, often talking about his career as a real estate agent, investor and landlord. But for more than a decade, he sold real estate by day, and moonlighted as a paid chorister for the Portland Opera.
Meek was a lifelong passionate, but untrained, singer, until his early 30s when his wife gifted him with voice lessons. Starting out as an alternate, he eventually worked his way up to a full-time singer and remained with the opera until 2014.
Meek didn't tout his talent during his election campaign in 2016, though he opened a couple of chamber of commerce meetings with singsong greetings. Now he often gets serenade requests, this month from Gladstone Mayor Tammy Stempel.
Juneteenth will be recognized for the first time this year in cities across the county, in various free events that are open to the public. Milwaukie's first celebration will start at 3 p.m. in Milwaukie Bay Park; hosted by Unite Oregon City for the second year in a row, a 2 p.m. Library Park celebration will include presentations and performances celebrating the Black experience; Wilsonville's Juneteenth celebration is at 10 a.m. in Town Center Park.
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