Ohio's Black Lawmakers Celebrate Juneteenth, Push For Other Bills
State offices are closed for this first-ever commemoration of the federal holiday of Juneteenth. And some state lawmakers are hoping new awareness about that day and other moments in history will have an effect on other bills.
Democratic Rep. Thomas West is the president of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus, which he says is backing a bill to make Juneteenth a paid state holiday. It's a bipartisan bill sponsored by Sens. Hearcel Craig (D-Columbus) and Andrew Brenner (R-Delaware).
West said Juneteenth is a celebration, "and it’s not just for African Americans. It really should be for all of us to celebrate a freedom of slavery. We should all be celebrating that."
The OLBC is also pushing for a ballot issue to take slavery out of the Ohio constitution, which now says slavery is banned unless as punishment for a crime.
“There is a place for history, and that will always be there. I don’t think slavery is going to go away by taking the term ‘slavery’ out of the constitution," West said. "Just like some of our bad history that they’re taking down statues. That doesn’t have to go away, but there’s a place for that. And that place may not be in front of the people that it very stifled.”
He and other members of the OLBC also say they’re very concerned about two Republican sponsored bills, from Rep. Don Jones (R-Freeport) and from Reps. Diane Grendell (R-Chesterland) and Sarah Arthur Fowler (R-Jefferson) that would set restrictions on teaching about race and racism in Ohio schools.