Pharrell helped Virginia become the second state to declare Juneteenth a paid holiday
Virginia followed Texas’s lead and just became the second state to declare Juneteenth a state holiday. Pharrell Williams, a Virginia Beach native, joined Gov. Ralph Northam to announce the news on June 16th—just three days before the holiday. Texas became the first state to declare Juneteenth a state holiday in 1980, so we’re hoping Virginia’s 2020 declaration motivates more states to follow suit and finally give this important day in American history the recognition it deserves.
Forty-seven American states have previously declared Juneteenth an “observance,” meaning it’s commemoratively celebrated and marked on the calendar, but it’s not recognized on a larger scale—similar to Mother’s Day or Flag Day.
But now, by declaring Juneteenth a state holiday in Virginia, it will be a paid day off for state employees—meaning they can officially take time to celebrate.
The move encourages all Virginia-based companies to adopt the holiday for their own employees, though they are not legally required to do so, according to an Employment Law Handbook.
A wider acknowledgment of Juneteenth is a step in the right direction toward equality, and Pharrell Williams had a hand in making it happen in his home state. Williams spoke with Gov. Northam over the weekend and said “this is what listening looks like,” according to CNN. Williams joined Northam at the press conference on Tuesday to help announce the news, and he marked the occasion on Instagram.
“Today I joined Virginia Gov. Northam to announce Juneteenth as a state holiday. A paid holiday is just the start—to stand in solidarity with Black employees and with all Black people,” Williams wrote.
In his address, Williams noted the widespread acknowledgment that Juneteenth deserves and compared it to other American holidays.
“Our country excels, and I mean, excels at celebrating Independence Day. But it’s not perfect. Juneteenth deserves the same level of recognition and celebration. July 4, 1776, not everybody was free and celebrating their independence day. So here’s our day, and if you love us, it’ll be your day, too,” Williams said.
Juneteenth, also called Jubilee Day or Freedom Day, commemorates the end of slavery in the United States and is celebrated on June 19th every year. The holiday dates back to June 19th, 1865—two months after the end of the Civil War—when Major General Gordon Granger abolished slavery in Texas, which was one of the last states allowing slavery to exist. The day marks the end of slavery on a grand scale, notably two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
Williams ended his address to the state of Virginia on a meaningful note. “From this moment on, when you look up at the vastness of the night sky and you see stars moving up there, know that those stars are our African ancestors dancing,” Williams said. “They’re dancing in celebration because their lives are finally being recognized.”
Other 48 states: Listen up and take action to give Juneteenth and Black Americans the recognition they deserve.