Governor Proposes Making Juneteenth a State Holiday

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Musician Pharrell Williams speaks during Gov. Ralph Northam's June 16 press briefing as the governor looks on.

By Stefanie Jackson – Gov. Ralph Northam announced on Monday that Juneteenth, Friday, June 19, will be a paid holiday for executive-branch state employees, and he will propose legislation to make Juneteenth a paid state holiday permanently.

“Black history is American history,” the governor said of June 19, 1865, the date when President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which freed slaves in Confederate states, was announced in Texas. It was the last state to get the news, more than two years after the proclamation was issued.

Virginia is poised to follow the example of Texas, which made Juneteenth a state holiday in 1980.

Northam’s announcement came on the heels of a Virginia General Assembly decision to abolish the state holiday, Lee-Jackson Day, which was celebrated every January in honor of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. The law eliminating that holiday takes effect July 1.

Pharrell Williams, a popular musician and native of Virginia Beach, Va., joined Northam in promoting the Juneteenth holiday.

“Our country excels – and I mean excels – at celebrating Independence Day. But it’s not perfect. Juneteenth deserves the same level of recognition and celebration. July 4, 1776 – not everybody was free and celebrating their independence day. So here’s our day. And if you love us, it will be your day, too,” Williams said.

The Rev. Kelvin Jones, pastor of First Baptist Church in Capeville, who participated in Northam’s June 2 press briefing, was invited to speak again on racism.

“We must recognize … this mindset of racism, this mindset that ‘I’m above you, and you are beneath me.’ The mindset that the extinction of one race at the empowerment of another will not make Virginia nor America great,” Jones said.

“When do we become unified? … America cannot heal, Virginia will not heal until we become unified,” he continued.

“Unity does not mean we agree in totality, but what it means is that we can sit down at the table of communication with differing opinions and come to the common ground that we need one another to survive,” Jones said.

“The question now becomes, ‘Is more legislation what we need?’ I don’t know, we have plenty of laws on the books that we haven’t learned to enforce properly. Is more police training what we need? I don’t know, we already attend academies for 20 to 33 weeks.”

“But what I do know is something you cannot teach – you either have this or you don’t – and that is respect, common courtesy for humanity, and treating people they way you want to be treated.”

He challenged Virginia “to make some new history.”

“Let us show the world what a colorblind state looks like. Let us show the world what a state that is inclusive looks like regardless to race, creed, or color. Let us show the world how legislators serve all … constituents, not just those who look like them.”

COVID-19

The positivity rate for COVID-19 tests has fallen to 7.4%, but Virginia won’t advance to Phase 3 of reopening this week, Northam said.

He was concerned about protesters and others who have not been social distancing or wearing face masks in public and advised that they “please think about themselves, think about others who are around them, and follow our guidelines.”

Northam recommended that all who may have been exposed to the coronavirus get tested for COVID-19 at a community testing site.

“I think the great majority of Virginians understand what we’re up against, they understand the importance of the social distancing, the wearing of the facial protection, and the cleaning of our hands.”

“If we’re going to move forward, if we’re going to go into Phase 3 and beyond, we’ve got to accept that this is going to be the new normal until we either have a vaccination or a treatment.”

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