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What is Juneteenth? It could become a state holiday in Virginia

It’s celebrated on June 19 and commemorates the ending of slavery in the United States in 1865

RICHMOND, Va. – During a coronavirus briefing on Tuesday, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced he is looking to make Juneteenth a state holiday.

Juneteenth, celebrated annually on June 19, commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union general Gordon Granger read federal orders in Galveston, Texas, that all slaves in Texas were free. The day is also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day.

Here’s the order Granger read on that day, which put into effect the Emancipation Proclamation, which had been issued more than two and a half years earlier on Jan. 1, 1863, by President Abraham Lincoln.

The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer.

General Order Number 3

Northam made the announcement in Richmond, alongside Grammy-winning musician and Virginia native, Pharrell Williams.

“This is a big display of progress and I am grateful for Virginia for leading the way,” said Williams. “From this moment on, when you look at the vastness of the night sky, and you see those stars moving up there, know that those stars are our African ancestors dancing. They are dancing in celebration because their lives are acknowledged.”

Previously, Virginia has recognized the day with a proclamation.

Northam is proposing legislation to make the day a paid-state holiday. It’s currently one in Texas, celebrated as Emancipation Day.

“Since 1619, when representative democracy and enslaved African people arrived in Virginia within a month of each other, we have said one thing, but done another,” said Northam. “It’s time we elevate Juneteenth not just as a celebration by and for some Virginians, but one acknowledged and commemorated by all of us. It mattered then because it marked the end of slavery in this country, and it matters now because it says to Black communities, this is not just your history—this is everyone’s shared history, and we will celebrate it together. This is a step toward the Commonwealth we want to be as we go forward.”

Starting this Friday, Juneteenth will be a paid-day off for executive branch state employees.

Looking at Virginia’s state calendar, other holidays are New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, George Washington Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor day, Columbus Day, which is on Oct. 12 and Yorktown Victory Day, which is on Oct. 19, Election Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Christmas Eve and Christmas.

Four hours of additional holiday time are also granted to state employees on the day before Thanksgiving.

2020 was the final year Virginia recognized Lee-Jackson Day as a state holiday.

House Republican Leader Todd Gilbert issued this statement in support of the announcement:

"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. For the first time since enslaved Africans landed at Jamestown in 1619, the chains of bondage were finally cast off. The Republican Party was founded with the express goal of ending slavery, and it still celebrates the legacy of Abraham Lincoln to this day. As the greatest part of that legacy, Juneteenth is the day that the God-given gift of liberty for all Americans was finally proclaimed throughout the land, and it is deserving of its own special recognition and observance.”

Todd Gilbert

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