A bill to add Juneteenth as an official paid state holiday in California gained near universal support in the last few weeks as public support for the holiday also climbs.
Assembly Bill 1655, authored by Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), would add Juneteenth, a holiday commemorating the emancipation of slavery in the United States and a celebration of the thirteenth amendment, to the list of state holidays. As part of the bill, community colleges and public schools will take the day off, while state employees can choose to take the day off as one of their 11 paid holidays.
Assemblyman Jones-Sawyer wrote the bill as a way to allow Californians to reflect on the institution of slavery and how to better stop racism.
“It really is a day of reflection,” Assemblyman Jones-Sawyer said on Monday. “It’s a day of looking at all that African Americans have gone through. We need to remember Juneteenth so that people understand why we need to continue to fight, to reverse this river of racism that has been permeating through the Black community from 1865 until now.
“The reason Juneteenth is really important for all Americans, I think is to show how strong and resilient we are as Americans. And then, most important, what African Americans go through. And as you relive and retell those stories I think it’s important for all Americans to understand that their strength.”
While both public and legislative support for the bill has been strong since it was first introduced in January, little criticism has been launched at the holiday.
“Some initially opposed it because they felt like it would just be a free summer day off or a free vacation day, but that isn’t what it is about,” explained Carroll Smith, a Juneteenth celebration organizer who has been working with lawmakers in three states to help pass Juneteenth legislation. “But it’s actually steeped in history. It started with an order announcing that all slaves in Texas were free in 1865, and the holiday has persisted ever since. It didn’t become more nationally known until more recently, but it was also the one that stuck it out and marked the largest state with slaves to set them free.”
“As for arguments that there isn’t enough public support, it’s now way up, even compared to last year. Last year less than half of Americans approved it of being taught in schools. Now that number is 63%. And last year only 35% approved of it being a federal holiday. No we’re at half. And this is only after one year of spreading awareness on a large scale. It’s not a new holiday, but it’s still new for many.”
“And in California, it would be huge if they decided to make it an official paid holiday. New York, Texas, Virginia – they all have it done already. When was the last time they were all on the same page about anything? And California would help others turn around too as the largest state.”
Juneteenth as a paid holiday
That sentiment has been shown in the state legislature, with the Assembly passing the bill with a bipartisan 75-0 vote last month, with similar unanimous Senate committees already passing it as well. The last few months have removed virtually all opposition as more states approve it as a paid holiday and public support grows.
“You have people, lawmakers, everyone from all races, socio-economic classes and political parties saying this should happen,” added Smith. “California isn’t the only state to see a surge of support making it unanimous. This has happened with many. And with Juneteenth being yesterday, it just has grown even more. There’s so many holidays out there that can be dubious for being paid or being federally recognized. Some, like Columbus Day, probably won’t even be around in ten years. But everyone seems to agree on Juneteenth. It’s a celebration of freedom in a very visceral form. The alternate name of the day is even Freedom Day. What’s more American than that?”
Across the United States, only 18 states currently acknowledge Juneteenth as a paid day off holiday. If passed, California would be the 19th.
AB 1655 is currently waiting to be heard in other Senate Committees before a full Senate vote sometime in the coming weeks.
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