The celebration of “Juneteenth” has since spread around the country, though Texas is so far the only state to make it an official holiday, having established it in 1980.
“We must remember that black history is American history,” Northam said. He pointed out that July 4 is a national holiday that celebrates freedom, but that freedom did not include everyone. “By commemorating it, we push people to think about the significance of Juneteenth,” Northam said. “It matters now because it says to black communities that this is not just your history, this is everyone’s shared history.”
“Juneteenth is the oldest celebration of the end of slavery in the United States,” he said. Virginia has previously had an annual proclamation to commemorate the date. “That’s nice,” Northam said, but added that Virginia needs to do more.
Musician Pharrell Williams, who is from Virginia Beach, joined Northam for the announcement and called on corporations based in Virginia to give their employees a paid day off this Friday.
“This is a big display of progress, and I’m grateful for Virginia and us leading the way,” said Williams, who added that he called Northam over the weekend to talk about the potential for making Juneteenth a state holiday.
A bill to establish a Juneteenth holiday was introduced in this year’s General Assembly session by Del. Joshua G. Cole (D-Fredericksburg) but died in committee. Northam did not say who would sponsor this new effort or when it would be introduced.
Its prospects appear good, though: A host of top Democrats joined Northam at the announcement, including House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax) and Senate Majority Leader Richard L. “Dick” Saslaw (D-Fairfax). And soon after, the top Republican in the House of Delegates added his name to the list of supporters.
“Juneteenth is the day that the God-given gift of liberty for all Americans was finally proclaimed throughout the land, and it is deserving of its own special recognition and observance,” House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) said in a statement.
Northam plans to call the legislature for a special session in August to take up budget matters related to the pandemic, and his staff said he hopes the Juneteenth holiday can be considered then. Otherwise, it would be handled in next January’s regular session.
Earlier this year, the General Assembly voted to make Election Day a state holiday and made room for it on the calendar by canceling an old holiday recognizing Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.
Northam signed that bill into law; it takes effect July 1.
In the weeks since the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody set off a national reckoning over racist behavior and symbols, Northam has also announced plans to remove Richmond’s colossal Lee statue.
The state is fighting several lawsuits that challenge Northam’s authority to take down the statue, which the governor has criticized as a glorification of the era of slavery.