Governor Ralph Northam signed legislation this week passed during the General Assembly 2020 special session into law making Juneteenth an officially recognized holiday in the Commonwealth.
Juneteenth will now be a permanent, statewide holiday allowing all state employees to get a paid day off from work.
Northam originally made the announcement that he was signing the legislation during a press conference on Wednesday.
“Today I was proud to sign legislation that makes Juneteenth a permanent, statewide holiday and I’m also proud that the legislation passed unanimously,” Northam said. “Juneteenth is the oldest celebration of the end of slavery in the United States. It’s time we elevate this not just a celebration by and for some Virginians, but one acknowledged and celebrated by all of us.”
Friday morning, the governor posted a photo to Twitter showing him signing the legislation.
In case you missed it: The first law I signed from this special session makes #Juneteenth a permanent, paid state holiday in Virginia.
This day is about celebration, education, and reflection—and now it will be one that is recognized and commemorated by all of us. pic.twitter.com/whMnBUFLHY
— Ralph Northam (@GovernorVA) October 16, 2020
Del. Lamont Bagby (D-Henrico County), the sponsor of the House of Delegates’ version of the bill, said the governor’s decision was definitely not a shock because they and Sen. Mamie Locke (D-Hampton), sponsor of the Senate’s identical bill, had been working on this for quite some time.
“Juneteenth is not only a time to honor the memory of those individuals who have contributed to our great nation, but also celebrate the independence and freedom of those that have been enslaved,” Bagby said in an interview with The Virginia Star. “It is a time to reflect, but it is also a time to celebrate.”
Bagby continued: “I didn’t know the real significance of the celebration [of Juneteenth] until I was a bit older. The more I learned, the more I understood why this is such an important holiday for all Americans. So, it was a shock to me that, outside of the Black community, not many knew or celebrated Juneteenth.”
In terms of how much the new state holiday will cost Virginia, Sen. Bill DeSteph (R-Virginia Beach) told The Star that it would cost the Commonwealth $10 million per day without counting higher education employees and the salaries of executives.
“What some folks say is: the state is already paying them, so if you give them a holiday it doesn’t cost anything,” DeSteph said. “Well, actually it does. It [has costs] in lost productivity and the state now has to pay certain people overtime for working the holiday.”
Just like this past June, Richmond and other counties in the area, such as Henrico, are planning activities to celebrate the holiday in 2021, and the next step is to get more localities and large corporate employers in the state to give their workers the day off as well, Bagby said.
Robert Barnette Jr., president of the Virginia State Conference NAACP, was extremely supportive that something the Black community has valued for many years can now be shared with everyone.
“I think [the holiday] will grant other cultures and ethnic groups to see how important this has been in the African American community and it will raise awareness with other ethnicities around the Commonwealth and around the state,” Barnette told The Star. “The more we recognize the values of our culture the better it is because that goes into helping us understand one another.”
Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day or Jubilee Day, marks the date in 1865 when Union soldiers arrived in Texas with the news that the Civil War had ended and enslaved people were free.
“[Juneteenth] is important because it depicts just how long it took for the word to get to African Americans that were enslaved in Texas.”
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