Virginia governor proposes making Juneteenth a paid state holiday

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RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Joined by Grammy-award winner Pharrell Williams, Gov. Ralph Northam said Tuesday that he will propose legislation to make Juneteenth an official state holiday.

“Black history is American history,” Northam said in a release. “It is time we commemorate another time of that history.”

Juneteenth is a celebration on June 19 commemorating the end of slavery in the U.S. It marks the date when federal troops took control of Texas in 1865, more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation declaring the freedom of slaves in Confederate states.

Northam said he believes Virginia — once home to the capital of the Confederacy — would become the second state to recognize Juneteenth as a holiday. Texas first made it a state holiday in 1980.

The governor is giving executive branch employees the day off for Juneteenth this Friday. House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax) said House of Delegates employees would also get a paid day off.

“This day shut the door on the enslavement of black people. It is an important symbol,” Northam said.

Williams, a singer, producer, and entrepreneur as well as a Virginia native, said he wants to see Virginia corporations make Juneteenth a paid holiday as well. He said our country excels at celebrating Independence Day and that Juneteenth deserves the same recognition.

“July 4th 1776, not everyone was free and celebrating Independence Day. So here is our day and if you love us it will be your day too,” Williams said. “We are only moving in one direction — forward, the future.”

Pharrell made headlines last week after proposing on social media to have Black Lives Matter on Virginia Beach’s oceanfront boardwalk. Following Pharrell’s Instagram post, Virginia Beach Mayor Bobby Dyer said he and his staff were discussing the option of getting the artwork done.

The legislation is expected to pass, possibly during an August special session, as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have already shared their support. Virginia House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) sent this statement following Northam’s announcement:

I am proud to add my support to proposed legislation marking June 19th, Juneteenth, as an official state holiday. July 4th is the birthday of our nation, but Juneteenth is the day where it truly began to fulfill its promise of freedom for all. For the first time since enslaved Africans landed at Jamestown in 1619, the chains of bondage were finally cast off. The Republican Party was founded with the express goal of ending slavery, and it still celebrates the legacy of Abraham Lincoln to this day. As the greatest part of that legacy, Juneteenth is the day that the God-given gift of liberty for all Americans was finally proclaimed throughout the land, and it is deserving of its own special recognition and observance.”

Virginia House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert

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