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Governor declares Juneteenth a state holiday

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced his intention to mark Juneteenth (June 19) a permanent paid state holiday during his Tuesday, June 16, press conference.

Ralph Northam

A press release said Northam was kicking off the holiday by giving state employees a day off Friday, June 19. Although Virginia has long marked Juneteenth by issuing a proclamation, the date was not previously considered an official state holiday.

According to the release, Juneteenth is the oldest known commemoration of the end of slavery in the U.S. It marks the day in 1865 that enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, the last of the former Confederate states to abolish slavery, finally heard that the Civil War had ended and learned that the Emancipation Proclamation had made them free more than two years earlier.

According to Juneteenth.com, Texas was not initially heavily impacted by the proclamation due to the lack of Union troops to enforce the new executive order.

Previously this month, U.S. President Donald Trump received immense backlash after he announced plans to hold a campaign rally on Juneteenth in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the site of one of the country’s deadliest race riots in 1921. The date of the rally was later changed to Saturday, June 20.

“This is a big display of progress, and I am grateful for Virginia for leading the way,” singer Pharrell Williams, a Virginia native, said in reference to the governor’s announcement. “From this moment on, when you look at the vastness of the night sky, and you see those stars moving up there, know that those stars are our African ancestors dancing. They are dancing in celebration because their lives are acknowledged.”

“I believe that the governor’s decision will be met with mixed emotions in the community because of its timing,” Prince Edward Commonwealth’s Attorney Megan Clark said. “However, I am thrilled the decision was made. Many are not familiar with Juneteenth, but it really is the equivalent to Fourth of July for many in the African American community.  Our ancestors were not freed by the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. The last slaves were not officially freed until 1865. The recognition of Juneteenth through a state holiday formally legitimizes what is recognized and celebrated by so many already.”

Cameron Patterson, managing director of the Robert Russa Moton Museum in Prince Edward, said Northam’s decision served as a powerful statement regarding the importance and significance of Juneteenth.

“It is important that we recognize the importance of black history and the contributions of black citizens toward the advancement of our commonwealth and country,” he said … “Juneteenth is a celebration of resilience and the spirit of those who sought to move forward in the face of challenging circumstances. There is more work that Virginia can do to create a commonwealth that shows its commitment to equality and justice for all, but this is a great step forward. My challenge to all of us, particularly those of us working in (an) education space, is to ensure that students know the significance of Juneteenth and the contributions of black citizens. We must work to make sure that this history is told with the fierce urgency that it deserves.”

In response to the new state holiday, many localities are altering their schedules for services and office hours Friday.

In Cumberland County, administration offices, the DMV and transfer stations will be closed, but county courts will remain open.

In Prince Edward, administration offices will be closed, but courts will remain open, as will convenience sites.

Buckingham County transfer stations will remain open Friday.

The Town of Farmville’s offices will also be closed on Juneteenth.