Juneteenth, the celebration of the emancipation of enslaved people, is now a permanent statewide holiday in Virginia. In a press conference Tuesday, Governor Ralph Northam announced that the legislation to make it so had been unanimously passed. All state employees will now get June 19 off as a paid holiday.
Juneteenth commemorates the day in 1865 when Union Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas to confirm the North had won the Civil War, and to enforce the emancipation of enslaved people in Texas. Though the holiday has long been celebrated by the Black community, there’s been a push to bring it wider recognition.
Northam first announced his intent to make the day an official paid holiday amidst the George Floyd protests in June, and he gave state employees off for the subsequent holiday. Texas, New York, and Pennsylvania are the other states that have designated Juneteenth a paid holiday.
“It’s time we elevate Juneteenth not just as a celebration by and for some Virginians, but one acknowledged and commemorated by all of us,” Northam said. “It mattered then because it marked the end of slavery in this country, and it matters now because it says to Black communities, this is not just your history—this is everyone’s shared history, and we will celebrate it together. This is a step toward the Commonwealth we want to be as we go forward.”