The state of Georgia will now give its state workers the day off to celebrate Juneteenth as a holiday. Gov. Brian Kemp signed legislation to expand law limits around the number of days allowed for office closures in acknowledgment of public and legal holidays, granting state employees to have a full-day’s pay as they observe the celebratory marker that freed enslaved Africans in Texas, two-and-a-half after the Emancipation Proclamation.
The previous law only allowed for Georgians to have 12 paid holidays a year.
Kemp signed bill HB1335 into law on Monday, April 4, three days after it passed in the state Senate (49 to 1) and three weeks after it passed in the state House of Representatives (152 to 2). The move aligns the Republican governor with President Joe Biden, who made the recognition a federal holiday in 2021, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
After the president signed the legislation, co-sponsored by Vice President Kamala Harris, Kemp presented a proclamation recognizing the day as a holiday. However, the rigid state legislation would not make room for the day to be elevated alongside other holidays. Kemp had two options: drop one of the holidays or change the law.
There are 10 holidays cemented in the state’s calendar for annual observance and two that are flexible. The two flexible holidays were created to celebrate the Confederacy and the one and only president of that nation: Confederate Memorial Day and Robert E. Lee’s birthday. These holidays are usually never on the same day each year. In 2021, one was observed on Good Friday and the other on the day after Thanksgiving.
Congressman Calvin Smyre (D-Columbus) was asked to sponsor the bill by Kemp, as a tribute to his 48 years of serving in the state House. Smyre, who is retiring this year, also sponsored the Martin Luther King Jr. Day legislation in 1984, and worked to make that day of service a statewide holiday.
While at least 49 states and Washington D.C. recognize Juneteenth as a holiday, only a handful have made it a paid observance for their state. Georgia joins Texas, New York, Virginia, Washington and Illinois in this legislative move.
On Tuesday, April 12, Colorado lawmakers passed a bill designating Juneteenth as the 11th official paid state holiday. Sources say Gov. Jared Polis is expected to sign it.
“We have to reckon with our very tough past of slavery and what this country was built upon,” Democratic Rep. Leslie Herod, a bill sponsor, said, according to the Albuquerque Journal “But we also have to honor the freedoms that have come and the liberation that is here.”
Since April 2022, several mayors across the country have moved to make Juneteenth, which is also called Emancipation Day and Freedom Day, official paid holidays in their municipality.
New York City mayor Eric Adams released a statement on Monday, April 11, declaring the day “a time for reflection” and saying the decision to note it as a paid holiday “is overdue.”
He wrote, “As the second Black mayor of New York City, I know that I stand on the shoulders of countless heroes and sheroes who put their lives on the line to secure a more perfect union. Now is the time for me to do a small part and recognize one of our nation’s greatest wrongs.”
“Juneteenth is a time for reflection, assessment, and self-improvement. People across the country of all races, nationalities, and religions unite on this day to truthfully acknowledge the stain of slavery and celebrate the countless contributions of Black Americans,” he continued. “It’s time for our city to finally do what’s right and officially designate Juneteenth as a city holiday.”
Additionally, Nashville mayor John Cooper promises to sign an executive order recognizing Juneteenth as a paid city holiday for city workers, including non-civil servants, on Thursday, April 14.
Juneteenth, which falls on June 19th, decorates the anniversary of the day federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, in 1865 to announce that all enslaved Africans were free. This year marks the 157th year since that historic action in the Lone State.