Virginia governor to propose Juneteenth as state holiday
RICHMOND, Virginia (AP) - Governor of Virginia Ralph Northam announced on Tuesday that it would make Juneteenth - a day commemorating the end of slavery in the United States - an official holiday in a state where the Capital of the Confederation lived.
June 19, also known as Emancipation Day and Freedom Day, is celebrated annually on June 19. Texas made it a public holiday for the first time in 1980. The holiday would be a paid day off for all government employees. Northam said he thinks Virginia is only the second state to do so.
"It is time to increase this," Northam said of the June 19th commemoration. "Not just a celebration by and for some Virginians, but one that is recognized and celebrated by all of us."
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The democratic governor is giving everyone on the executive a paid holiday this Friday, and will work with lawmakers later this year to pass a law that codes Juneteenth as a permanent state holiday. Legislation will likely pass the democratically controlled legislature with little effort.
The holiday commemorates June 19, 1865, when African Americans in Texas finally received the news that President Abraham Lincoln had issued the declaration of emancipation that freed slaves living in Confederate states two years earlier. Former slaves celebrated when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston to spread the word that slavery had been abolished.
The announcement came less than two weeks after Northam announced it would order the removal of a statue of General Robert E. Lee along Richmond's prominent Monument Avenue. It is one of the country's most famous monuments to the Confederacy. Earlier this year, Northam signed a law to abolish Lee Jackson Day, a state holiday named after two Confederate generals.
Northam was almost pushed out of office last year after a racist yearbook photo surfaced. After the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a Minneapolis official pushed his knee into Floyd's neck, he was lauded by black lawmakers for his actions in Virginia and asked for air.
President Donald Trump announced last week that he has postponed an election campaign event scheduled for June 19 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The announcement of the rally sparked an outcry because Tulsa was the scene of one of the worst cases of racist violence in US history in 1921, when hundreds of African Americans were massacred by a white mob that burned black shops and homes.
Northam was accompanied at his press conference on Tuesday by Virginia musician Pharrell Williams. Williams said Juneteenth deserves the same level of recognition and celebration as Independence Day.
"Here is our day, and if you love us, it will be your day," said Williams.
In a statement, Republican leader of the state house, Todd Gilbert, repeated the same feelings.
"July 4th is our nation's birthday, but June 19th is the day when it really began to deliver on its promise of freedom for all," said Gilbert. "For the first time since enslaved Africans, the chains of bondage landed in Jamestown in 1619." were finally dropped. "
Joseph Rogers, a 29-year-old activist who regularly protested in Richmond during more than two weeks of demonstrations about Floyd's murder, welcomed Northam's announcement.
"It's a step in the right direction," said Rogers.
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