Juneteenth may soon be recognized as a federal holiday

Juneteenth gained momentum as a celebrated holiday this year in the wake of a rising wave of calls for racial justice and reforms across the US. Now, with the support of corporate executives, sports officials, and elected officials, the move to make Juneteenth a national holiday is gaining momentum. 

As we discussed on our Optimist Daily Update podcast on Friday, Juneteenth celebrates the day in 1865 when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, and brought news that slavery had been abolished more than two years earlier.

Currently 47 states and the District of Columbia recognize Juneteenth as an official state holiday or observance. Texas became the first state to recognize it as a paid holiday in 1980. This week, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced that he would make Juneteenth a paid state holiday and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order to make Juneteenth a paid holiday for all state employees as well. Although not yet a statewide policy, the the city council of Portland, Oregon, is making June 19 a paid holiday for city employees

In the corporate world, JCPenney CEO Jill Soltau sent a memo to employees telling them to take the day off “to honor the historic pain caused by — and lives lost to — racial inequity and celebrate racial diversity.” Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced plans to make Juneteenth an annual holiday and Nike CEO John Donahoe informed employees that the date would become a paid holiday in the company. Even NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell decided to close league offices on June 19.

Congress has not approved a national holiday since 1983 with the official creation of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but both the House and the Senate have passed resolutions to recognize the importance of Juneteenth as part of the nation’s history. This year, according to The Huffington Post, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, plans to introduce legislation to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. Sen. John Cornyn also announced Thursday that he too will introduce a bipartisan bill to make June 19 a federal holiday.

Gwen Ragsdale, executive director of the Lest We Forget Slavery Museum in Philadelphia, says most white Americans are not familiar with the significance of Juneteenth, but it is a critical day of both celebration and remembrance. We hope to see more states, and even the federal government, institute Juneteenth as an officially-recognized holiday in the near future to give its significance the recognition it deserves in US history. 

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