Virginia becomes second state to make Juneteenth an official holiday
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) announced Tuesday that he’s making Juneteenth an official holiday in the state that once served as the capital of the Confederacy.
“It’s time we elevate this,” Northam said. “Not just a celebration by and for some Virginians but one acknowledged and celebrated by all of us.”
Juneteenth is a day that commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S. The holiday commemorates June 19, 1865, when news reached African Americans living in Texas that President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation two years prior. Texas made it a state holiday back in 1980.
Although the move to make Juneteenth an official state holiday requires legislative approval, Northam is giving executive branch employees this year off as a paid holiday until the legislature takes up the matter. There is little doubt that it won’t win overwhelming support in the Democratic-controlled legislature.
Republican lawmakers were also supportive of the governor’s move. Virginia House Republican Leader Todd Gilbert applauded the idea.
“I am proud to add my support to proposed legislation marking June 19th, Juneteenth, as an official state holiday. July 4th is the birthday of our nation, but Juneteenth is the day where it truly began to fulfill its promise of freedom for all,” Gilbert said in a statement. “The Republican Party was founded with the express goal of ending slavery, and it still celebrates the legacy of Abraham Lincoln to this day.”
Northam was joined in making the announcement by musician Pharrell Williams, who is a native Virginian. Williams said Juneteenth deserves the same level of recognition and celebration as the 4th of July.
“I want to thank @Pharrell for joining me today and for working alongside so many others to make the significance of #Juneteenth known, understood, and celebrated,” Northam tweeted.
The announcement follows Northam’s order to remove of a statue of General Robert E. Lee along Richmond’s famous Monument Avenue. The governor also recently signed legislation eliminating Lee-Jackson Day, a state holiday named after the two Confederate generals.
Northam said that he’s aware that the new state holiday was symbolic.
“But symbols do matter,” he said. “If they didn’t, people wouldn’t be fighting so hard to keep Confederate flags and statues up. Symbols show what we value.”
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