The date of June 19, also known as Juneteenth will be recognized as an official paid holiday in the state of Virginia starting this year with state employees. Juneteenth, also known as Emancipation Day and Freedom Day, celebrates the end of slavery in 1865 for Black people in the United States.
The announcement regarding this year’s change came from Virginia Beach native and musician Pharrell Williams and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam during a Tuesday, June 16 news conference. The governor plans to give June 19 as a paid holiday to each state employees beginning Friday. He will work with the legislature later on a law to make Juneteenth a permanent state holiday, according to a news release on his website.
“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,” said Williams. “They’re dancing in celebration because their lives are finally being acknowledged. Their lives matter. Their descendants’ lives matter. Black lives matter in the eyes of the Commonwealth. I can’t say that it always has, but finally we recognized that Black lives absolutely matter.”
Williams then talked about Virginia’s part in the African slave trade.
“Virginia is where ships filled with kidnapped and enslaved Africans first landed on these shores over 400 years ago … All of my ancestors were enslaved,” he explained. “My ancestors sacrificed their lives so that I can stand here today and use my voice.”
Williams said that he called Northam last weekend and they spoke about the current uprising for racial equality that’s taking place across the United States. He then told Northan that it was time to make Juneteenth a paid holiday in Virginia.
“So this is what listening looks like,” said the superstar producer, singer and songwriter. “This is our chance to lead to truly embrace the importance of Juneteenth and treat it as a celebration of freedom that Black people deserve and African diaspora deserve.”
When Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation and it went into effect on Jan. 1, 1863, Black people were still enslaved in the Confederate states.
The Civil War was over in April 1865, with the Union Army being victorious. But Black people in Texas weren’t told they were supposed to be freed until June 19 of that year when the news was given to them by Union Major-General Gordon Granger in Galveston, Texas.
Williams shared video of the news conference with Northam on his Instagram page and wrote, “Today I joined Virginia Gov. Northam to announce Juneteenth as a state holiday. A paid holiday is just the start to stand in solidarity with Black employees and with all Black people.”
“History✖️New Future, thank you Pharrell,” one person wrote in the comments.
“So many shifts happening now!!” wrote another Instagram user. “Thank you for standing up for what’s right! 💯”
The NFL and companies such as Nike, Square and Twitter recently announced they also will recognize June 19 as a company-wide paid holiday.
Fittingly, Texas was the first state to make Juneteenth a state holiday in 1980.