Juneteenth is now a state holiday. Lawmakers have approved legislation during the Virginia General Assembly special session.
The state holiday marks the day news of the Emancipation Proclamation. It reached Texas, which was the last state to abolish slavery. The companion bills were introduced by Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, and Del. Lamont Bagby, D-Richmond. Gov. Ralph Northam signed the legislation on Oct. 13.
Juneteenth: the Oldest Celebration of the End of Slavery in the U.S.
“Juneteenth is the oldest celebration of the end of slavery in the United States,” Northam said during a press conference held on the day. “It’s time we elevate this. Juneteenth is not just a celebration by and for some Virginia. But one acknowledged and celebrated by all of us.”
Juneteenth found it’s long-lost recognition in a bill earlier this year. Del. Joshua Cole, D-Fredericksburg, introduced a bill in the legislative session to recognize Juneteenth, but the proposal didn’t advance.
Then Northam proposed making Juneteenth a state holiday in June. It was during a press conference that included musician and Virginia-native Pharrell Williams. Northam signed an executive order. It gave the executive branch employees and state colleges the day off. Some Virginia localities, such as Richmond and several places in Hampton Roads, have observed the holiday this year.
Time to Honor and Celebrate the Emancipation and End of Slavery
“I think it is overdue that the Commonwealth formally honor and celebrate the emancipation and end of slavery,” Del. Mark Cole, R-Fredericksburg, a co-patron of the bill, said in an email. “This is a step towards fulfilling the promise of equality contained in our founding documents.”
Promoting and Celebrating Juneteenth by The Elegba Folklore Society
Celebrating the holiday for decades is The Elegba Folklore Society. Its a Richmond-based organization focused on promoting African culture, history, and arts. A three-day weekend event, it looks at the history of Juneteenth. There is also a torch-lit walk down the Trail of Enslaved Africans in Richmond, said Janine Bell, the society’s president, and artistic director.