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Northam, Pharrell announce legislation that would make Juneteenth a state holiday

Posted at 2:29 PM, Jun 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-16 20:31:10-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Governor Ralph Northam announced legislation Tuesday that would make June 19, or Juneteenth, a paid state holiday.

Juneteenth or Freedom Day, is the day that commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S. On June 19, 1865. Union troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, with news that the Civil War was over, and that all remaining slaves in the state were free.

That came more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863.

“Every year, as a nation, we mark the Fourth of July, Independence Day, celebrating our independence from English colonial rule. We celebrate this as a holiday. But that freedom we celebrate did not include everyone,” said the governor.

Northam said commemorating the day will push Virginians to think about the significance of Juneteenth.

"It's time we elevate this, not just a celebration by and for some Virginians, but one acknowledge and celebrate it by all of us. Because that's how important this event is," said Northam. "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.

He added that symbols matter, because they show what we value and if symbols didn’t matter, people wouldn’t be fighting so hard to keep Confederate flags and statues.

Northam made the announcement Tuesday, alongside Virginia native and music superstar Pharrell Williams, at his biweekly news conference to update his administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"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," said Williams.

He went on to say that this is Virginia’s chance to lead by example.

"Black Lives Matter in the eyes of the Commonwealth. I can't say that it always has. But finally, we recognize that black lives absolutely matter," he said. "This is our chance to lead to truly embrace the importance of Juneteenth and treat it as a celebration of freedom that black people deserve and African Diaspora deserve."

There is no word whether Northam's proposed legislation will be in the special General Assembly session this summer or the regular session in 2021.

House Republican Leader Todd Gilbert issued a statement saying he is “proud” to add his support to the proposed legislation.

“July 4th is the birthday of our nation, but Juneteenth is the day where it truly began to fulfill its promise of freedom for all,” said Gilbert. “For the first time since enslaved Africans landed at Jamestown in 1619, the chains of bondage were finally cast off. The Republican Party was founded with the express goal of ending slavery, and it still celebrates the legacy of Abraham Lincoln to this day.”

The Juneteenth commemoration will begin Friday, June 19 with a paid day off for Executive Branch employees.

Over recent weeks, Richmond-based businesses like Altria have announced Juneteenth as a company-wide paid holiday. Northam says he encourages all Virginia-based corporations to follow suit.

Stay with CBS 6 for the latest on this developing story.