Less than a year after dumping a state holiday honoring Confederate generals and making Election Day a holiday, Virginia is on the cusp of elevating Juneteenth.
"We are changing what we honor in Virginia," Governor Ralph Northam said.
With Virginia native Pharrell standing alongside him, Northam announced on Tuesday a proposal that would make Juneteenth an official paid, state holiday.
A proclamation has marked Juneteenth as a holiday in the state, but the proposal would give it a new status.
“It’s time we elevate this – not just by and for some Virginians – but one acknowledged and celebrated by all of us, because that’s how important this event is. It finally shut the door on the enslavement of African-American people. And while it did not end racism, black oppression or violence – it is an important symbol. By commemorating it, we push people to think about the significance of Juneteenth,” he said.
The proposal would begin with giving state employees a paid holiday on June 19.
Pharrell made local headlines recently when he proposed painting “Black Lives Matter” along Virginia Beach via Instagram.
“This is a very special moment. Very special. This is a big display of progress, and I’m grateful for Virginia and us leading the way,” Pharrell said on Tuesday.
June 19 commemorates the day when residents in Galveston, Texas became the last Americans to learn that the slaves had been freed.
Northam and Virginia’s Democratic party have taken advantage of a newly established majority to pass a number of progressive pieces of legislation – including some gun control measures, raising minimum wage and eliminating roadblocks for communities that wish to do away with their Confederate monuments.
Governor Ralph Northam said the new status for the holiday is primarily symbolic – but he hopes it will be a step toward social justice in the Commonwealth.
The designation arrives in the wake of massive protests and unrests following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.