LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A proposed Michigan legislative resolution recognizing a holiday that celebrates the end of slavery is on hold because Republican leaders are uncomfortable with the language, spurring criticism from the measure's black sponsor that attempting to change the wording is a form of "white privilege."
The Juneteenth measure, which Democratic Sen. Bert Johnson of Highland Park had hoped would be adopted on June 19 — the holiday — was instead referred to a Senate committee Tuesday after behind-the-scenes wrangling.
The symbolic resolution says African-Americans still experience "vestiges of slavery" such as inadequate public schools, voting rights issues and trouble accessing loans.
"Those are just facts. I'm not making this stuff up," Johnson told reporters on Wednesday. "What we're really talking about is white privilege and in some cases supremacy. Any white man who believes that he can rewrite a black man's resolution on slavery, which is my experience and my ancestors' experience, is practicing white privilege."
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Rick Jones, who is white, said unspecified GOP leaders asked him to change the "strange" and "quite shocking" resolution. The Grand Ledge Republican said parts of the measure are "sort of a political attack" instead of being celebratory in nature.
"When you do a resolution, this comes from all the senators, not just one. If he wants to make a tribute and have it just be from him, fine. But if it's a resolution, it's coming from all the senators," Jones said. "It's important that it be done appropriately."
Juneteenth commemorates the abolition of slavery in Texas two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
Jones said Johnson became angry when he suggested changes. The "vestiges of slavery" line would be adjusted to say Juneteenth is a "celebration of African-American freedom and triumphs. It's a day of remembrance, for honoring ancestors, and a day of pride."
Jones, who called Johnson's racial accusations "ridiculous," said Johnson is mad because he would not let him take the lead on a Jones-sponsored bill that would create an African-American affairs commission.
"This is a statement by a former inmate about a former sheriff. He doesn't like me," Jones, an ex-Eaton County sheriff, said of Johnson, who pleaded no contest in a 1993 armed robbery.
Johnson accused Jones of trying to deflect the issue by talking about legislation "that is completely unrelated. ... I never thought that he would have the nerve to send me a rewritten resolution."
Later Wednesday, Jones publicly apologized to Johnson for his sheriff-inmate comments, saying he wanted to shake hands and move on.
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(Photo: David Eggert/AP Photo)