Virginia, New York Declare Juneteenth a State Holiday

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced Tuesday, June 16, 2020 that he's making Juneteenth an official holiday in a state that was once home to the capital of the Confederacy.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced Tuesday, June 16, 2020 that he's making Juneteenth an official holiday in a state that was once home to the capital of the Confederacy. AP Photo/Steve Helber


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Governors in both states are giving state workers a paid day off as they propose legislation to commemorate the emancipation of slaves.

Governors of Virginia and New York announced efforts this week to make Juneteenth a state holiday to commemorate the emancipation of slaves in the United States.

While the majority of states commemorate or recognize the day in some way, only Texas currently recognizes June 19 as a paid state holiday.

Juneteenth celebrates the day that the last slaves in Texas and the Confederate South were freed in 1865. While President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation legally freed all slaves across the United States in 1863, it took time for the news to travel and word of the proclamation reached African Americans in Texas on June 19, 1865. 

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said making the day a state-sponsored holiday elevates its importance to all residents.

“It says to Black communities, this is not just your history, this is everyone’s shared history and we recognize it together,” Northam said.

The decision is notable for Virginia in particular, once home to the capital of the Confederacy, where state lawmakers this year did away with a 116-year-old state holiday that honored rebel generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. 

While Northam noted that emancipation did not stop racism against African Americans, he said celebrating the date that enslaved people were freed in the United States is an “important symbol.”

“By commemorating it, we push people to think about the significance of June 19,” he said.

Both Virginia and New York will give state employees a paid holiday this Friday as they pursue legislation to make Juneteenth a permanent holiday.   

“It is a day that we should all reflect upon and it is a day that is especially relevant in this moment in history,” said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo at a press conference Wednesday.

Juneteenth commemorations are just one way that lawmakers across the country are responding to the public outcry over the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, who died after a white police officer pinned the man’s neck to the ground using his knee. Floyd’s death has led to nationwide protests against police brutality as well as heightened awareness about the ways systemic racism affects African Americans.

Many cities are also removing Confederate statutes and monuments, which demonstrators have targeted as symbols of slavery, white supremacy and segregation. Elsewhere, lawmakers are examining ways to reduce police misconduct and weed out bad cops.  

Texas established Juneteenth as a state holiday in 1980.

Washington, D.C. celebrates its own Emancipation Day on April 16, marking the date in 1862 when the District abolished slavery and freed more than 3,000 enslaved people.

Some private companies have also recently announced that they will make Juneteenth a paid holiday for workers. 

Andrea Noble is a staff correspondent with Route Fifty.

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