Virginia governor Ralph Northam said Tuesday that he would christen Juneteenth — celebrated on June 19 to commemorate the end of slavery in the U.S. — an official state holiday, making Virginia the second state in the country to adopt such a measure.
“It’s time we elevate this,” Northam announced. “Not just a celebration by and for some Virginians but one acknowledged and celebrated by all of us.” He added that he would be giving every executive branch employee the day off this Friday as a paid holiday, and would work with state legislature to codify Juneteenth as a permanent state holiday. Currently, Texas is the only state in the country to officially celebrate Juneteenth.
Musician Pharrell Williams, who is from Virginia, joined Northam at the announcement. Williams said Juneteenth deserves the same level of recognition and celebration as July 4.
“Here’s our day, and if you love us, it’ll be your day too,” Williams said.
Juneteenth celebrates June 19, 1865, the day African Americans in Texas heard that President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation two years earlier, freeing slaves in Confederate states two years earlier.
Northam, who nearly was forced out of office last year after a blackface photo was uncovered in his 1984 medical school yearbook, has pushed for the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in the state capital of Richmond in recent weeks. Despite a judge temporarily staying his order, Northam “remains committed to removing this divisive symbol,” his press secretary said last week.