Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced Tuesday that he will propose making Juneteenth — a day that commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S. — an official holiday in a state that was once home to the capital of the Confederacy. Musician Pharrell Williams, a Virginia native, joined him at a news conference.
"This is our chance to lead, to truly embrace the importance of Juneteenth and to treat it as a celebration of freedom that Black people truly deserve," Williams said at the podium.
Juneteenth, which is also called Emancipation Day and Freedom Day, is celebrated annually on June 19. Texas first made it a state holiday in 1980.
“It's time we elevate this,” Northam said of the June 19 commemoration. “Not just a celebration by and for some Virginians but one acknowledged and celebrated by all of us.”
The holiday would be a paid day off for all state employees. Northam said he thinks Virginia would be only the second state to do so.
Northam also announced all employees of the state executive branch will be given a paid day off Friday in commemoration of Juneteenth this year.
Williams asked for businesses to do the same.
"I would like to see corporations that call Virginia their home give people the paid day off," he said.
The Democratic governor will work with the legislature later this year to pass a law codifying Juneteenth as a permanent state holiday. The legislation is likely to pass the Democratic-controlled legislature with little trouble.
The holiday commemorates June 19, 1865, when news finally reached African Americans in Texas that President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation freeing enslaved people living in Confederate states two years earlier. When Union soldiers arrived in Galveston to bring the news that slavery had been abolished, former enslaved people celebrated.
“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,” state House Republican Leader Todd Gilbert said in a statement. “For the first time since enslaved Africans landed at Jamestown in 1619, the chains of bondage were finally cast off.”
The announcement came less than two weeks after Northam announced he was ordering the removal of a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee along Richmond's prominent Monument Avenue. It is one of the country's most iconic monuments to the Confederacy. Earlier this year, Northam signed legislation scrapping Lee-Jackson Day, a state holiday named after two Confederate generals.
President Donald Trump announced last week that he has rescheduled a campaign rally that was planned in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Juneteenth. The announcement of the rally had sparked an outcry because Tulsa was the site of one of the worst instances of racial violence in U.S. history in 1921, when hundreds of African Americans were massacred by a white mob that burned black-owned businesses and homes.
Earlier this year, Northam signed legislation scrapping Lee-Jackson Day, a state holiday named after two Confederate generals.