RICHMOND, Va. — Gov. Ralph Northam announced legislation Tuesday that would make June 19, or Juneteenth, a paid state holiday.
Juneteenth – Freedom Day – is the day that commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S. on June 19, 1865. Union troops arrived in Galveston, Texas with news that the Civil War was over, and that all remaining slaves in the state were free.
That came more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863.
“Every year, as a nation, we mark the Fourth of July, Independence Day, celebrating our independence from English colonial rule. We celebrate this as a holiday. But that freedom we celebrate did not include everyone,” Northam said. "It’s time we elevate Juneteenth not just as a celebration by and for some Virginians, but one acknowledged and commemorated by all of us."
Northam said commemorating the day will push Virginians to think about the significance of Juneteenth.
Gov. Northam added that symbols matter, because they show what we value and if symbols didn’t matter, people wouldn’t be fighting so hard to keep Confederate flags and statues.
"This is everyone’s shared history, and we will celebrate it together. This is a step toward the Commonwealth we want to be as we go forward," Northam said.
The governor made the announcement Tuesday alongside Virginia native and musician Pharrell Williams at his biweekly news conference to update his administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"This is a very special moment. Very special. This is a big display of progress and I'm grateful for Virginia and us leading the way," Williams said.
Williams went on to say that this is Virginia’s chance to lead by example.
“From this moment on, when you look at the vastness of the night sky, and you see those stars moving up there, know that those stars are our African ancestors dancing. They are dancing in celebration because their lives are acknowledged," Williams said.
The Virginia Beach native and musician isn't a stranger when it comes to advocating for equality and equity for the Black community.
Most recently, Williams shared a photoshopped picture on Instagram of the Virginia Beach Oceanfront with the "Black Lives Matter" letters on the Oceanfront boardwalk.
Pharrell wrote "VB, let’s make it happen" in the post, which showed a Photoshopped mural with big letters spelling out "Black Lives Matter" on the boardwalk.
Other cities around the country have painted large Black Lives Matter murals on streets, including here in the District.
Gov. Northam's announcement comes days after he announced the state will remove the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee located on Monument Avenue in Richmond.
Earlier this year, Governor Northam also successfully proposed ending a state holiday that celebrated Confederate generals and making Election Day a state holiday in its place.
There is no word whether Northam's proposed legislation will be in the special General Assembly session this summer or the regular session in 2021.