Northam calls for Juneteenth to be a Virginia state holiday

Northam calls for Juneteenth to be a Virginia state holiday
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Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) will make Juneteenth, the June 19 commemoration of the end of American slavery, a paid holiday for all executive branch employees — and propose a bill making it a statewide paid holiday, he announced Tuesday.

Northam, who made the announcement with Virginia Beach native Pharrell Williams, said Tuesday that "it's time we elevate this, not just a celebration by and for some Virginians, but one acknowledged and celebrated by all of us.”

The state typically recognizes the date with a written proclamation, “but we need to do much more,” Northam added.

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June 19 was the date in 1865 when Gen. Gordon Granger read the Emancipation Proclamation to former slaves in Texas, the final state where it was read. Juneteenth has been celebrated since at least 1866 and is a state holiday or observance in 47 states. Several private companies recently announced the date would be a paid holiday as well, including Twitter, Square and the NFL.

“It’s time we elevate this," Northam said. “It finally shut the door on the enslavement of African American people.”

Williams called the announcement “a very special moment” and a “big display of progress,” adding “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 ... because their lives are finally being acknowledged.”

“We need to inspire teachers and students to learn about this place and this time and help us understand how we got to this moment and why it is so important for us to realize that we have to do something now when we see such unmitigated violence against unarmed people — against people who are trying to live what we call the American dream,” Lauranett Lee, a University of Richmond public historian and visiting lecturer in the Jepson School of Leadership Studies, said in a statement. “This history matters.”

A renewed interest in Juneteenth has accompanied the nationwide surge of protests and demonstrations that has followed the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, at the hands of Minneapolis police on Memorial Day.