June 19 marks Juneteenth – the day that enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas finally received word in 1865 that slavery had been formally ended two years earlier by the Emancipation Proclamation. The holiday has been celebrated by Black people for decades as the day Black Americans truly became free – in contrast to July 4th, which marks the day the US colonies declared independence from Britain.
But this year’s Juneteenth is different. As protests continue around the country – and the nation is pushed to reckon with its racist history – cities and states around the country are declaring Juneteenth an official holiday, will momentum building for Congress to declare it a federal holiday as well.
Multiple cities around the country, including Philadelphia and Portland, Oregon, have declared June 19th an official city holiday. In Philadelphia, for example, all city offices and facilities will be closed on Friday in observance of Juneteenth. The holiday designation is currently just for 2020, but Mayor Jim Kenney has said he intends to pursue the necessary steps to make Juneteenth a permanent city holiday. In Portland, Oregon, Mayor Ted Wheeler also declared Juneteenth an official paid holiday.
“We want to formally recognize the significance of June 19 and observe it as a day of both remembrance and action,” Wheeler said. “We are committed to making sure this holiday is more than a gesture. It must symbolize our commitment to eliminating anti-Black racism within the City of Portland’s workforce and community.”
He continued: “This year, we are suggesting that City of Portland employees spend the holiday getting educated on the white supremacy that was foundational to American culture. The objectives of the day are to grieve, listen, learn, engage and heal,” Wheeler said.
According to the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation, many states already acknowledge Juneteenth as a day of observance through a state resolution. But now some states are taking it further and have moved to make Juneteenth an official holiday. In Virginia, Democratic Governor Ralph Northam announced a proposal this week to make Juneteenth a statewide holiday. In Tennessee, a bill has also been proposed to make Juneteenth a statewide holiday. Meanwhile, many companies, including Best Buy, Target, and Twitter, have also declared Juneteenth an official company holiday.
The decision to commemorate Juneteenth have been widely celebrated. There are even calls for Congress to declare it a federal holiday. Still, some social media users have expressed concern about the potential for the holiday to become too commercialized and watered down as a result.
President Trump was scheduled to hold a campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma – the site of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre – on Juneteenth but pushed it to Saturday after widespread criticism that the move was racist and disrespectful to Black Americans. Several local Oakland community groups are hosting “An Unapologetic Juneteenth Celebration” on Saturday, June 20th in Mosswood Park from 2pm to 5pm.
Meanwhile, Black Lives Matter activists around the country are also planning a weekend of action to mark the holiday. Protests are planned all around the country for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
Brandon Patterson is a freelance writer covering criminal justice, race, and inequality. He previously was the lead policing reporter for Mother Jones Magazine.