Pharrell Williams Northam news conference

Recording artist and Virginia Beach native Pharrell Williams spoke during Gov. Ralph Northam's news conference on Tuesday, June 16, 2020. (Screenshot from livestream of news conference.)

Flanked by recording artist Pharrell Williams and a who's who of African-American leaders from across Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam said Tuesday he will ask the General Assembly to make Juneteenth a state holiday. 

Juneteenth, celebrated on June 19, commemorates the date in 1865 that word of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation made its way to the final state, Texas.   Although President Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation ended slavery on paper in 1863, thousands of slaves across the South didn’t know they were free until much later.

No Phase Three of reopenings this week, Northam says

Northam said he will give executive branch state employees the day off with pay this year.  It was not clear whether he would propose legislation to create the holiday when the legislature meets in special session later this summer or whether he will wait until the next regular session in January.  He noted that Virginia would be just the second state to make Juneteenth a holiday and encouraged local governments and businesses to follow his lead. 

Northam noted that the country celebrates its independence every July 4, “but that freedom we celebrate did not include everyone.”

 “Throughout American history we’ve struggled to live up to our ideals of freedom and justice for all. We’ve said one thing but done another,” he added. 

He said that Virginia is among 44 states that annually commemorate Juneteenth with a written proclamation. "That’s nice, but we need to do much more. It’s time we elevate it."

The symbolism of the holiday would be important, he added. “It mattered then because it marked the end of slavery; it matters now because it says to black communities this is not just your history this is everyone’s shared history, and we recognize it together."

Since photos emerged early last year from Northam's medical school yearbook showing students in blackface, the governor has focused on addressing racial equality issues, and he recently extended the work of a commission taking a comprehensive look at how state laws affect African Americans.   The recent protests and demonstrations surrounding the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer have spurred additional efforts, including Northam's plans to remove the Robert E. Lee statue on Monument Avenue in Richmond. 

At Northam's request, the General Assembly this year ended Lee/Jackson Day as a state holiday and instead made Election Day a holiday.  Lee/Jackson Day commemorated the two Confederate generals. 

"We're changing what we honor in Virginia," he said.

Williams, who is from Virginia Beach, said he and Northam spoke over the weekend about additional steps the state could take, including the Juneteenth holiday.  He said he is a descendant of slaves.

“My ancestors sacrificed their lives so that I could stand here today and use my voice," Williams said. “This is our chance to lead by example.... This is about proper recognition, it’s about observation, and it’s about celebration.”

He noted that most of the demonstrations since Floyd's death have included a diverse group of people. "Those are Americans in the streets, not just people who look like me, but all types.”

Williams encouraged Virginia businesses to recognize the holiday as well. "Juneteenth deserves the same level of celebration and recognition” as July 4, he said.  “If you love us, it will be your day, too.”

Among those on hand in Richmond for the news conference were House of Delegates Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn and Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, both from Fairfax County. Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria and the first African-American House Majority Leader in Virginia history, was among the speakers. 

 "I encourage every Virginian no matter your race to treat Juneteenth as a time for reflection, conversation and, most importantly, action," Herring said.  

(23) comments

Joe Christmas

"Williams encouraged Virginia businesses to recognize the holiday as well. "Juneteenth deserves the same level of celebration and recognition” as July 4, he said. "

What a ridiculous comment.

Why is it a ridiculous comment? Do you even understand what Juneteenth is?


Well, the Declaration of Independence established principles never before recognized by any government and established a government based on those principles. While freedom from slavery in the US was of course significant, it wasn't the first time a government had done that (and in fact slavery still exists in other countries).

Also. June 19 is the date a US Army general read a 3-year old order by Lincoln declaring slaves to be free - but only in states that had seceded (not Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky, Missouri). The general read the order in Texas, thereby applying it to Texas. It wasn't the date of the actual order by Lincoln. And the general's reading of the order had nothing to do with Virginia.

If you want to establish a holiday re freeing slaves in the US, wouldn't it make more sense to pick the date they were actually freed (holiday could be either Dec 6, ratification of the 13th Amendment, or May 9, the date the Civil War ended)?


The Magna Carta would like to have a word with you...

Nevermind “Joe Christmas”, I looked back at your racist and limited viewpoint comments.


Yeah. Racial & limited mentality that one.


‘Since photos emerged early last year from Northam's medical school yearbook showing students in blackface, the governor has focused on addressing racial equality issues.” That says it all. If he was really sincere, he wouldn’t have waited until the yearbook photo.


The decision is good. The man is insincere. He should have done this sooner.


Can you say pandering?


People here attacking Northam because they can't attack the decision.


It is about time - we had to put up with Lee-Jackson Day for the longest time (which was redneck Virginia's way of trashing Martin Luther King's holiday by putting it on the Friday before). So a little Juneteenth on the calendar might be a nice way to remind people that the south lost the war.

Major Mike Webb

“With malice towards none and charity to all,” I believe a Republican said who was shot at a theater days after the war ended.


Shot by a DemcoRAT


Rather than selecting June 19 - a date that has nothing to do with Virginia, wouldn't it make more sense to celebrate Dec 6 - the date the 13th Amendment was ratified - or May 9 - the date the Civil War officially ended?

Major Mike Webb

First, may I say, as a grandson of a franchise martyr and who shared a mentor with Rev. King, but am not really black, according to Joe Biden, that I find it ironic that, just like Ralph issued a stay at home order that sent the state into pandemonium the day before I filed a challenge to the lockdown, now “I can’t plead” in the hearing we had scheduled to be heard on Friday to hold him accountable for killing over 700 old people in nursing homes. Second, it’s ironic that today the Fairfax NAACP liked a tweet where a black student was deprived of learning black history in schools where I thought we learned how to read; so, we may have some at the bottom of an achievement gap who have no idea what Juneteenth is. Finally, as not really a black man, I am offended that a day when slaves who needed somebody else to fight to free them also had to be told that they were free is now something to celebrate. Woot! Go, ignorance!


Is this really at all necessary? There are more Spanish in this country than blacks, and nobody recognizes the Asians. You'd think the blacks were the only minority, and not a minority at all, especially based on all the TV commercial coverage they have in this area. Enough already ! Will be so glad when Northam is gone !


Your comment is somewhat insensitive. It’s easy to dismiss this when you don’t fully understand the struggle and hardship of (as you said) “blacks”/ancestors/slaves. It doesn’t even matter “how many” minorities are in the country🙄. EVERYONE should be recognized as equal. So yes, this IS necessary!


Everyone IS recognized as equal, ever since 360,000 Union soldiers died in the Civil War fighting the injustice of Slavery, and with the abolishment of slavery with the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution. It took another 99 years of fighting the DemocRATs to end social slavery with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. July 4th is Independence Day for ALL Americans of ALL colors.


I know!! So what’s the problem with recognizing another act of freedom!? Because when that Civil Rights Act was passed many southern states opposed it! And those who opposed were BOTH from republicans and democrats. So idk what you’re trying to imply with your “democRAT” comment. Has nothing to do with that. It’s about acknowledging a moment in history... aka Juneteenth!


ON TOO OF THAT! You’re comparing July 4th in which American broke ties with BRITAIN. Totally different!!


AND ON TOP OF THAT. You’re comparing July 4th.. a day when America cut ties with BRITAIN. Not the same my friend!


It'll be fun to see what kind of mask Northam wears Friday. Will it be white with eyeholes?


Although the Emancipation Proclamation had no legal validity (and excluded slave holding states that had not seceded), I can see why folks in Texas might want to make it a state holiday. Doesn't really have anything to do with Virginia, though (vs, say, Feb 3 as "15th Amendment Day"). This is just more rabble rousing by our Governor.

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