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article imageVirginia governor pushes to make Juneteenth a paid state holiday

By Karen Graham     Jun 16, 2020 in Politics
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.
Governor Ralph Northam, who was joined by 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 governor added that typically, the state recognizes Juneteenth with a written proclamation, “but we need to do much more."
Northam said his action would formalize that observation, and Friday will mark a paid day off for executive branch state employees. “It’s time we elevate this," Northam said. “It has finally shut the door on the enslavement of African American people.”
Williams, who is a music producer and singer, lauded the announcement as 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.”
Governor Ralph Northam Gives Inaugural Address on January 13  2018
Governor Ralph Northam Gives Inaugural Address on January 13, 2018
Craig from Richmond, Virginia (CC BY 2.0)
"Our country excels, and I mean, excels at celebrating Independence Day. But it's not perfect. Juneteenth deserves the same level of recognition and celebration. July 4, 1776, not everybody was free and celebrating their independence day. So here's our day, and if you love us, it'll be your day too," Williams said, reports CNN.
Celebrating the end of slavery in the United States
“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 personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.” —General Orders, Number 3; Headquarters District of Texas, Galveston, June 19, 1865
Juneteenth, which is commemorated every year on June 19 to celebrate the abolition of slavery in the U.S., has received more attention this year than the holiday ever has - mainly due to President Donald Trump's announcement that he was going to hold a campaign rally on that date in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Abraham Lincoln.
Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Abraham Lincoln.
Engraving by W. Roberts
However, after he received backlash from critics who pointed out that holding a rally on June 19 was bad enough, but holding it in a city where 300 black Americans were slaughtered in 1921 was even worse, the Trump campaign changed the date to June 20.
Perhaps the biggest reason for the interest In Juneteenth is the protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hand of a white police officer earlier this month. The protests have lasted three weeks, so far, and the demands for change and recognition of black Americans as being "equal under the law" are finally being heard.
"Some might say a change in a state holiday is merely a symbolic action. But symbols do matter. If they didn't, people wouldn't be fighting so hard to keep Confederate flags and statues up. Symbols show what we value. This symbol, this holiday, is one step toward reconciliation," Northam said.
Emancipation Day celebration in Richmond  Virginia  ca. 1905.
Emancipation Day celebration in Richmond, Virginia, ca. 1905.
Virginia Commonwealth University LOibrary
Ralph Northam is the governor of Virginia, which has a long history of owning slaves - dating back to 1619 - when the White Lion, an English privateer ship, brought the first 20 Angolan slaves to the new colony. This was one year before the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock.
It took until 1661 before Virginia passed its first law allowing any free person the right to own slaves. Before that time, Africans were legally deemed to be indentured servants, the same as whites who were brought over as indentured servants.
The recent protests have already seen a number of changes around the country - including Virginia. In April, Northam signed a bill into law that removed the Lee-Jackson Day holiday, which honored Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson and instead established Election Day as a holiday.
A slice of red velvet cake and a strawberry soda pop is a great way to end your Juneteenth celebrati...
A slice of red velvet cake and a strawberry soda pop is a great way to end your Juneteenth celebration.
Flickr user ~Twon
However, the move by Northam to make Juneteenth a state holiday is amazing, to say the least. By doing so, Virginia will join Texas, which in 1980 became the first state to recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday.
According to the Deseret News, red foods are traditional at Juneteenth cookouts and Barbecues - Foods such as red velvet cake or strawberry soda are traditional, as red is “a symbol of ingenuity and resilience in bondage."
And just about all states, except Hawaii, North Dakota, and South Dakota currently recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday or day of observance. In 2018, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution that would designate June 19 as “Juneteenth Independence Day,” but it has not yet reached the House, according to The New York Times. Perhaps it is time that someone reminds Congress of this.
More about Juneteenth, emancipation day, Virginia, Governor Northam, paid state holiday
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