Juneteenth could be America's first new holiday since 1983

2019 Juneteenth celebrations.
(Image credit: Dylan Buell/Getty Images for VIBE)

Calls to make Juneteenth a federal holiday are growing as states and businesses across the nation are joining the traditional commemoration of the end of slavery, which has long been a day of celebration within the African American community. This year's festivities will mark the 155th anniversary of the day when slaves in Galveston, Texas, were informed by Union soldiers that they were free, some two-and-a-half years after slavery had already been abolished. The holiday is also sometimes referred to as "Freedom Day" or "Emancipation Day."

In New York, state employees are off after Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) became the second governor this week to announce his intention to make the day a permanent state holiday going forward. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) also aims to make Juneteenth a paid state holiday, as does the city council in Portland, Oregon,. Texas and Pennsylvania already recognized Juneteenth as a paid holiday for state employees prior to this year.

A number of businesses have also decided to observe Juneteenth as a paid holiday for employees, including J.C. Penny, Lyft, Uber, Nike, and the NFL. Additionally, Best Buy is offering employees a "paid volunteer day," Mastercard is using the holiday as a "Day of Solidarity," and Google is asking employees to "use this day to create space for learning and reflection."

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The last time Congress approved a new national holiday was in 1983, when it created Martin Luther King Jr. Day, NPR reports. But the measure has bipartisan support. Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn and Texas Democrat Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee reportedly both plan to introduce legislation to make June 19 a federal holiday.

"The stakes are a little different [this year]," Mark Anthony Neal, an African-American studies scholar at Duke University, told The New York Times. "Many African-Africans, black Americans, feels as though this is the first time in a long time that they have been heard in a way across the culture."

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Jeva Lange

Jeva Lange was the executive editor at TheWeek.com. She formerly served as The Week's deputy editor and culture critic. She is also a contributor to Screen Slate, and her writing has appeared in The New York Daily News, The Awl, Vice, and Gothamist, among other publications. Jeva lives in New York City. Follow her on Twitter.