Although the Town Council recently added a new town holiday to its calendar, there was not as much support for another.
The Town Council this week could not find a majority to support a state holiday celebrating four Constitutional amendments that expanded voting and civil rights to all U.S. citizens.
Mercury Payton, town manager of the Town of Vienna, is behind an initiative to establish both a Liberty Amendments Day and a month-long celebration recognizing the ratification of the 13th, 14th, 15th and 19th amendments to the U.S. Constitution. According to a Leesburg town staff report, the Virginia Municipal League is expected to endorse the idea in its policy statements that are adopted in October.
The four amendments were ratified between 1865 and 1920. The three Civil War-era amendments—the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments—abolished slavery, included the Equal Protection and Due Process clause, and prohibited denying the ability to vote based on race, color, or previous condition of servitude, respectively. The 19th Amendment, ratified in 1920, prohibited the denial of voting rights based on gender.
As envisioned by Payton, Liberty Amendments Month would begin annually on June 19, or Juneteenth, which was recently adopted by the Town Council as a new town government holiday, and is expected to be approved by the General Assembly as a state holiday. The month-long celebration would run through July 19. Liberty Amendments Day would be celebrated on the third Monday of July.
The council had requested a work session discussion on the initiative, which occurred Monday night. Deputy Town Manager Keith Markel said the town staff was not taking a position on the holidays, but said if the council supported the idea, staff recommended adding the item to its legislative policies statement ahead of the 2021 General Assembly session.
But a split council, at least for now, does not appear to be interested in moving the discussion forward. Councilwoman Suzanne Fox said she supported the idea of Liberty Amendments Day, but did not find merit in a month-long celebration that would occur in the summer months when generally schools are not in session. Councilman Tom Dunn said he did not understand why, if Constitution Day is already celebrated each year on Sept. 17, there was a need for another holiday singling out specific amendments.
Mayor Kelly Burk, Vice Mayor Marty Martinez and Councilman Neil Steinberg all expressed support for the additional holiday. Steinberg pointed to the educational opportunities available in recognizing the four constitutional amendments.
“I understand that we recognize the Constitution as a whole, but these four amendments are particularly important, especially as they pertain to people of color, and gender,” he said. “It seems to me that anything we can do to help people better understand the Constitution and these critical amendments as they relate to Juneteenth and the four weeks following I think is a great idea.”
Councilman Ron Campbell, however, said that what residents really want is change and not just another holiday.
“What people want are enforcements of the Constitution and the rights, not just another day to celebrate. It’s belittling to think we’ve done something if we just proclaim another holiday. I think it’s a ridiculous position to take and a harmful position to take. I think it’s reckless and it’s demeaning,” he said.
Only Burk, Martinez and Steinberg expressed support for moving the discussion forward, lacking the fourth member needed to move the item to a vote.
At press time, no patrons for Payton’s holiday initiative have been identified in the General Assembly, but it is expected to come up for discussion when the legislators reconvene in January.