Juneteenth Is Not a National Holiday, Yet. But There Have Been Calls To Make it a Federal Holiday

Maria Perez
Jun 19, 2020 - 9:18

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In the past few weeks, there have been increased calls to make Juneteenth a national holiday in the wake of anti-racism and police brutality after George Floyd was killed by four former Minneapolis Police Officers. As many people continue to support the Black Lives Matter movement, the U.S. has been forced to take a look at its history of slavery and racism.

June 19, or Juneteenth, is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the nation. On June 19, 1865, Union Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger told enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, that they have been emancipated from slavery. They received the news two years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation became effective. 

States that observe Juneteenth as a state 

There are 45 states in the U.S., as well as the District of Columbia, that observe Juneteenth as a state holiday. There are only four states that do not officially observe Juneteenth as a holiday: Hawaii, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota. Texas was the first state to make Juneteenth a state holiday after state Representative Al Edwards pushed forward legislation. 

On June 17, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that he issued an executive order recognizing Juneteenth as a holiday for state employees.

“Friday is Juneteenth – a day to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States – and it’s a day that is especially relevant in this moment in history,” Cuomo said in a statement. “Although slavery ended over 150 years ago, there has still been rampant, systemic discrimination and injustice in this state and this nation, and we have been working to enact real reforms to address these inequalities.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf also announced that Juneteenth will be recognized as a state holiday on June 16. Meanwhile, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam also said he would mark Juneteenth as a paid state holiday.

Lawmakers and the public call for Juneteenth to be a federal holiday

Lawmakers have pushed for Juneteenth to be recognized as a national holiday. In 2019, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution, naming “Juneteenth Independence Day,” as a national holiday, but it was not approved by the House. 

In an interview with MSNBC on June 18, California Senator Kamala Harris said she and Senators Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) were working on legislation to make Juneteenth a national holiday.

There are also online movements like HellaJunteenth that not only push to make Juneteenth a national holiday, but also provide resources on how to take action to support the Black Lives Matter movement.

A change.org petition circulating online was created by Opal Lee, a 93-year-old woman from Texas who, in 2016, walked from Texas to Washington D.C. in an effort to get Juneteenth to be recognized by Congress as a national holiday.

“It’s not a Black thing. It’s not a white thing. It’s just the right thing,” Lee told Blavity in 2016.

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