The Potluck

Juneteenth is now a state holiday

By: - February 3, 2023 1:53 pm

Rep. Ruth Richardson, DFL-Mendota Heights, presenting her bill to make Juneteenth a state holiday. Screenshot via Minnesota House.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz signed a bill to establish Juneteenth as a state holiday on Friday. 

Juneteenth, or June 19, commemorates the emancipation of enslaved Black Americans. It marks the day — two-and-a-half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed — that a group of enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, finally learned they were free. Though celebrated by Black Americans for 150 years, Juneteenth only became a federal holiday in 2021 after the murder of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter protests.

House representatives voted just yesterday to move the bill to Walz’s desk. It passed through the Senate on Jan. 26. 

Only one representative voted against the bill — Rep. Steven Jacob, R-Altura, who called it a “lonely feeling.” Jacob, like his Senate colleagues, said he would have supported the bill if Juneteenth as a day off was swapped with another holiday. He declined to say which one. 

“I saw this as an expansion of government where the taxpayer will be charged, but will receive one less day of service from all local levels of government,” Jacob said. He added: “I have all the respect in the world for the actual meaning and cause of the date.” 

There was no debate before the vote. 

On the House floor, chief author of the bill Rep. Ruth Richardson, DFL-Mendota Heights, said the 4th of July represents an “imperfect freedom,” while Juneteenth offers a chance to reflect on a “more inclusive definition of freedom.” 

“What to a slave is the 4th of July?” said Richardson, quoting abolitionist Frederick Douglass

Past bills to establish Juneteenth as a state holiday in Minnesota failed to gain traction. Eighteen states already observe Juneteenth as a paid state holiday. 

The passage of the Juneteenth holiday marks another recent victory for Minnesota civil rights advocates. Walz signed the CROWN Act into law this week, which makes hair-based discrimination illegal. The House also passed a bill allowing undocumented immigrants to get a driver’s license. That bill awaits Senate passage, as does a bill that passed the House on Thursday restoring voting rights to people on probation or parole, which disproportionately affects Black Minnesotans. 

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Grace Deng
Grace Deng

Grace Deng was a reporting intern with the Minnesota Reformer. They studied legal studies and Asian American Studies at Northwestern University. The Seattle native has previously been a statehouse intern with USA TODAY Network Ohio and an editorial fellow with Washingtonian Magazine.