RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Virginia will not enter Phase Three of its reopening plan at the end of the week, Gov. Ralph Northam said Tuesday, but some state employees will have the day off for Juneteenth after the governor announced he would propose making the day an official holiday.
Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery in the United States, is celebrated each year on June 19. Previously, it was commemorated with a written proclamation but Northam said Virginia can do better.
Joined by Grammy-winning musician Pharrell Williams, the governor announced his intention to make Juneteenth a paid state holiday in Virginia. The news was first reported by 8News ahead of Northam’s scheduled press briefing on Tuesday.
“It says to the black communities this is not just your history, this is everyone’s shared history and we recognize it together,” the governor said.
Juneteenth marks the effective end of slavery in the U.S. It came more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation declaring slaves in Confederate states free.
“July 4th 1776, not everyone was free and celebrating Independence Day so here’s our day and if you love us it will be your day too,” Williams said.
Williams, a Virginia Beach native, said declaring Juneteenth a state holiday is a chance for the commonwealth to lead. The governor is giving executive branch employees the day off and House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax) said all House of Delegates employees would also get a paid day off as well.
Williams called on private corporations in the state to do the same.
“This is about proper recognition, it’s about observation and it’s about celebration,” he said. “This is a chance for our government, our corporations and our citizens to all stand in solidarity.”
Northam’s office said the Virginia General Assembly will have to pass legislation to make Juneteenth an official paid state holiday. State lawmakers could do so as early as August, when they are expected to reconvene for a special session.
The proposal seems all but certain to pass after receiving support from Democrats and Republicans in the state legislature. Virginia House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) shared his support for the proposal in a statement.
I am proud to add my support to proposed legislation marking June 19th, Juneteenth, as an official state holiday. 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. 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. As the greatest part of that legacy, Juneteenth is the day that the God-given gift of liberty for all Americans was finally proclaimed throughout the land, and it is deserving of its own special recognition and observance.”Virginia House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert
WATCH: Gov. Northam’s full press conference on Tuesday alongside Pharrell, state lawmakers
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