A bill to make Juneteenth, a holiday that celebrates the emancipations of slavery in the United States, a paid state holiday in California, was introduced to the Assembly late last week.
According to Assembly Bill 1655, authored by Assemblywoman Akilah Weber (D-La Mesa) and Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), the bill would add the Juneteenth holiday on June 19th as an official state holiday. Under the bill, state employees, public schools, community colleges, and all California State Universities will be given time off with pay that day.
Juneteenth dates back to June 19, 1865 when Union Army General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas and announced that slavery was finally over, becoming the last state to officially end slavery and thus removing the practice from all states in the country once and for all. While only regionally celebrated for many decades, large scale celebrations began in earnest following civil rights victories in the 1960’s. By the 1980’s larger scale celebrations were held, and in the late 2010’s, several states began making the date an official paid holiday.
As of January 2022, nine states, including Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Washington state all have it as a paid state holiday. Juneteenth is also officially a federal holiday due to an act of Congress last year.
The Assembly members wrote the bill to honor the contributions of African-Americans in the United States, as well as a day to reflect on the struggle for freedom. In a statement, Assemblywoman Weber also expanded the holiday definition in California as a way to celebrate emancipation of all slaves, not just African-Americans.
“It is time that June 19th has the status it deserves in California to honor the significant contributions of Black Americans to our nation and reflect on the long struggle for freedom,” said Assemblywoman Weber during the weekend. “By making Juneteenth an official state holiday, California would demonstrate its commitment to celebrating the emancipation of all slaves.
“Juneteenth is an important and special annual celebration for Black culture, resilience, and achievement. Designating this date as a paid state holiday mirrors the federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. I am pleased to join Assembly member Jones-Sawyer on this legislation that honors the lives, history, and sacrifices to achieve freedom in America.”
It is time that Juneteenth has the status it deserves in California to honor the significant contributions of Black Americans to our nation and reflect on the long struggle for freedom. pic.twitter.com/sTQNStrhTG
— Assemblymember Akilah Weber, MD (@asmakilahweber) January 16, 2022
Assemblyman Sawyer-Jones added, “This is a significant milestone for African Americans, to have a date recognized by our state that is celebrated by all Californians. AB 1655 is an inclusive act marking a key point in our nation’s history – one we should never forget or ignore, and one that correctly balances the American scale of freedom from 3/5ths to a whole.”
Juneteenth as an official state holiday
While the bill is not expected to have significant opposition in the California legislature, employment experts stressed on Monday that AB 1655 should focus more on the emancipation of all slaves instead of only African Americans.
“In other states with large black populations, it’s easier to make the date more exclusive,” said Gideon Parker, a minority employment advisor to several Californian companies, to the Globe on Monday. “But California was a free state during the Civil War. And, yes, there were slaves before, but the vast majority were Native American and other races. Not to mention that only 6% of California is black. By making it more about emancipation, you hit closer to California’s history and honor everyone who had been subjugated to the practice.”
“Like [Assemblywoman] Weber said, it should be a date celebrating the emancipation of all slaves. The holiday has gained a lot of traction in the last few years, and California is getting in on it early, as is usual. But, again, California had a largely different history of slavery compared against Eastern states, and it should reflect that.”
“And to those that say that the state already has enough paid holidays, well, holidays are about commemorating significant and important events. Juneteenth was suppressed for years, so now we’re giving it the recognition it deserves. And becoming a state holiday is a part of that.”
If passed and signed into law, Juneteenth will be recognized as an official state holiday beginning next year.