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Most U.S. states recognized Juneteenth as an official public holiday in 2023

By Lee Cleveland - June 22, 2023

Juneteenth National Independence Day, the newest federal holiday in the United States, holds immense historical significance as it commemorates the end of slavery. While the federal level has officially recognized Juneteenth, states differ in their approach to commemorating this important day.

However, in 2023, a significant milestone was reached as more than half of the states, along with the District of Columbia, legally recognized Juneteenth as a public holiday. This recognition entails the closure of state government offices and grants state workers a paid day off.

State-Level Recognition of Juneteenth

According to a comprehensive analysis conducted by the Pew Research Center, at least 28 states and the District of Columbia officially acknowledged Juneteenth as a public holiday this year. These states have implemented legislation or updated their human resources websites to indicate the recognition of Juneteenth. The states leading the way in designating Juneteenth as a public holiday in 2023 include Connecticut, Minnesota, Nevada, and Tennessee.

The Process of Recognition

In most states where Juneteenth is now a public holiday, it is permanently designated as such, to be celebrated annually. However, in certain states like Alabama and West Virginia, Juneteenth has initially been authorized as a state holiday through a governor’s proclamation. The status of Juneteenth in these states can be elevated to a permanent holiday if the respective legislatures pass bills in support of this cause.

Varying Approaches

While some states recognize Juneteenth as an official public holiday, others grant specific government workers the day off without declaring it a holiday at the state level.

For instance, California state employees now have the option to take Juneteenth off as a substitution for a personal holiday. Similarly, in Pennsylvania, the day is designated as an “official annual observance” and grants state employees a paid day off under the governor’s jurisdiction.

North Carolina allows some state workers to choose a floating holiday on days of cultural, religious, or personal significance, which includes Juneteenth.

Among the states, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Hawaii were the last to formally recognize Juneteenth as an important date.

The significance of Juneteenth was not observed in South Dakota until 2020 when the governor proclaimed it as a state holiday. This proclamation marked a pivotal moment in acknowledging and celebrating the historical importance of Juneteenth within the state.

Similarly, in Hawaii and North Dakota, Juneteenth has been recognized as a day of observance since 2022. While it is not considered an official state holiday in these states, the establishment of Juneteenth as a day of observance signifies their commitment to honoring and commemorating the emancipation of enslaved individuals in the United States.

Historical Significance of Juneteenth

Juneteenth, a term derived from combining “June” and “nineteenth,” holds a momentous place in American history. It commemorates the day when enslaved Black Americans in Galveston, Texas, were informed of their freedom, more than two months after the Civil War had ended and over two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

It signifies the liberation of a marginalized community, a pivotal step towards equality and justice.

Juneteenth as a Federal Holiday

Juneteenth is now recognized as one of the 11 official federal holidays in the United States, ensuring that federal workers receive a paid day off and there is no mail delivery on this day. While most federal offices, banks, and bond markets close on federal holidays, the stock markets and most retailers remain open, although practices may vary slightly. It is essential to note that Juneteenth’s status as a federal holiday, along with its growing recognition at the state level, contributes to raising awareness and understanding of this significant milestone in American history.

The Journey to State-Level Recognition

Most states that have recently added Juneteenth to their official public holiday calendars did so in 2020 or later. However, the state of Texas, where Juneteenth originated and is also known as Emancipation Day, has been celebrating the holiday locally since the 1860s.

It officially became a state holiday in Texas in 1980, cementing its historical and cultural significance.

The public awareness of Juneteenth experienced a surge in 2020, following nationwide protests against racial injustice and police brutality, triggered by the tragic deaths of several Black Americans, including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. This increased awareness and understanding of the importance of Juneteenth eventually led to President Joe Biden signing the legislation that made it a federal holiday in June 2021.

Recognition Beyond Holidays

Apart from designating Juneteenth as an official public holiday, many states have also passed resolutions recognizing it as a day of observance, emphasizing its historical and cultural significance. In fact, every state in the United States has, at some point, passed a resolution acknowledging Juneteenth as at least a day of observance, even if it is not listed as an official holiday.