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‘This Is Our History’: Officials In Oregon and Washington Advance Bills Making Juneteenth an Official Holiday

Two states, Washington and Oregon, have recently advanced bills to make Juneteenth an official holiday.

A bill that would make Juneteenth a legal holiday passed in the Washington state Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support on April 9, the day after a similar bill cleared the House in Oregon.

“While this is an important day for many Black Americans, this is not a separate history, this is our history,” Oregon House Majority Leader Rep. Barbara Smith Warner said on the House floor on April 8. “This is American history. For far too long, the experiences, contributions and stories of Black people and people of color have been excluded from our nation’s legacy, Oregon’s history and minimized in history books. We must not forget and we must continue to share this history so it’s not forgotten.”

Juneteenth, the longest-running Black holiday in the United States, is celebrated annually on June 19, and commemorates the end of slavery in Texas. When Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865, the Civil War was effectively over and the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation declaring the slaves in Confederate states free became enforceable. But in Texas many slaves remained in bondage until Union soldiers arrived at Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1965, and Union Major-General Gordon Granger proclaimed Emancipation Day.

Contrary to popular misconception, slavery persisted in the United States even after June 19, 1865, as the Emancipation Proclamation only applied to slave states that had joined the Confederacy. It wasn’t until the 13th Amendment took effect on Dec. 6, 1865, that African-Americans in bondage in states such as Kentucky and Delaware were legally freed.

“I am so proud of the State of Washington. I asked my fellow legislators to pass this bill so that we can show the country that we are serious about equity in this state,” said Washington Rep. Melanie Morgan, who sponsored the bill. “Recognizing Juneteenth as a legal state holiday is a down payment towards racial reconciliation and healing.”

In an effort to honor those who were enslaved and celebrate what many wrongly recognize as the end of slavery in America, Washington state officials will receive a paid day off under legislation.

The bill received 47 yeas on one nay on the Senate floor on April 9. Now, the bill must be signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee to become law.

“Observing June 19th as Juneteenth will recognize the significance of America’s history of slavery, the vestiges of which continue in the oppression from institutional racism that remain today,” Inslee said.

June 19 has been designated a day of remembrance in Washington since 2007.

Juneteenth is not a national holiday, but was first officially recognized by Texas in 1980. Since then, 47 states and Washington, D.C., have made Juneteenth a state holiday or an observance.

Oregon officials in the House unanimously approved the legislation that would make Juneteenth a legal state holiday on Friday, by a vote of 53-0. The bill heads to the Senate next and, if passed, will go into effect 90 days after the close of the 2021 session, meaning Juneteenth would not be a state holiday this year. Whether or not it will become a paid holiday in the state depends on collectives bargaining agreements.

Gov. Kate Brown has said she would seek to write June 19 into law as a state holiday. Juneteenth has been designated a day of celebration in Oregon for 20 years.

Only South Dakota and Hawaii have no official observance on Juneteenth. (Hawaii did not become a U.S. possession until 1898.)

“While this is an important day for many Black Americans, this is not a separate history. This is our history. This is American history,” said Majority Leader Virginia Smith Warner of Portland, the bill’s floor manager.

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