PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney has signed an executive order that adds a new holiday to the city calendar and changes the name of another. The changes are just one response to a series of racial justice protests.
The executive order makes June 19, or Juneteenth, a city holiday until the end of the Kenney administration, in commemoration of the final emancipation of remaining slaves held in the United States until 1865.
Deputy Mayor Cynthia Figueroa, who co-chairs the Reform, Transformation and Reconciliation Committee created in the aftermath of last summer's protests, said the administration hopes to make the holiday permanent as part of bargaining with city worker unions this year.
"It was always the mayor’s intention to keep it as an ongoing official city holiday," said Figueroa.
The other provision is changing the name of the holiday celebrated on the second Monday of October to Indigenous People's Day, instead of Columbus Day.
"Which doesn't mean the Italians aren't going to celebrate it, let me tell you," said Chris Labovitz, president of the Sons of Italy. He said the organization is not happy about the change.
"There's one day of the year that Italians are honored, and millions and millions of Americans are from Italian heritage," he protested, "so I don't think getting rid of that holiday is going to do anybody any good."
Figueroa said the city in no way wants to diminish pride in Italian heritage, but thinks Christopher Columbus is not the best exemplar of Italian-American contributions, bringing up a record of enslaving and exterminating Indigenous people.