Pharrell Williams speaking during a June press conference announcing Gov. Ralph Northam's plans to make Juneteenth a state holiday. | Photo courtesy Gov. Ralph Northam's office

Juneteenth has officially become a state holiday after lawmakers unanimously approved legislation during the Virginia General Assembly’s special session.

Juneteenth marks the day news of the Emancipation Proclamation reached Texas, which was the last state to abolish slavery. The companion bills were introduced by Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, and Del. Lamont Bagby, D-Richmond. Gov. Ralph Northam signed the legislation on Oct. 13.

“Juneteenth is the oldest celebration of the end of slavery in the United States,” Northam said during a press conference held that day. “It’s time we elevate this, not just a celebration by and for some in Virginia, but one acknowledged and celebrated by all of us.”

Del. Joshua Cole, D-Fredericksburg, introduced a bill in the regular legislative session earlier this year to recognize Juneteenth, but the proposal didn’t advance.

Northam proposed making Juneteenth a state holiday in June during a press conference that included musician and Virginia-native Pharrell Williams. Northam signed an executive order that gave executive branch employees and state colleges the day off. Some Virginia localities, such as Richmond and several places in Hampton Roads, also observed the holiday this year.

“I think it is overdue that the commonwealth formally honor and celebrate the emancipation and end of slavery,” Del. Mark Cole, R-Fredericksburg, a co-patron of the bill, said in an email. “It was a step towards fulfilling the promise of equality contained in our founding documents.”

The Elegba Folklore Society, a Richmond-based organization focused on promoting African culture, history and arts, is one of the groups that has been celebrating the holiday for decades. The celebration usually is a three-day weekend event that looks at the history of Juneteenth. A torch-lit walk down the Trail of Enslaved Africans in Richmond is also held, said Janine Bell, the society’s president and artistic director.

“We take time to just say thank you to our ancestors, their contributions, their forfeitures, their trials and tribulations,” Bell said. “We invite people to Richmond’s African burial ground so that we can go there and pay homage from a perspective of African spirituality.”

Juneteenth should not be used as another holiday to look for bargains in stores, Bell said. It should be a time for reflection about liberty, as well as for celebration and family strengthening.

“It’s a time for optimism and joy,” Bell said.

The Elegba Folklore Society broadcasted its Juneteenth event online this year due to the coronavirus. Although there were still around 7,000 views, Bell said that it is usually much larger and has international influence.

Cries for police reform and social justice continue to increase, Bell said. More attention is being drawn to the racial disparities across America. With this, people have been changing their priorities concerning issues such as discrimination.

“This was a step towards equity,” Bell said about the bill. “A symbolic step, but a step nonetheless.”

State workers will be off during Juneteenth. If the job requires individuals to come in to work, then they will be compensated with overtime or extra pay, said Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, a patron for the bill.

The General Assembly wrapped up the agenda last week for the special session that began Aug. 18. Northam called the session to update the state budget and to address criminal and social justice reform and issues related to COVID-19.


(16) comments


After reading some of these comments, it's very apparent and disheartening to know that we still have so far to go to even get to an understanding of racial issues. White people really seem to believe that they have the right to dictate whatever they please when it comes to minority populations in this country. Having grown up in the north in a major urban area, I didn't get much of a taste of what it's like to be around red necks at all. White folks were more exposed to Black people and understood quite a bit more than folks here. It's pretty sad. Some elementary walls need to be broken through before and serious conversations begin.


I would say it's the exact opposite and it's Black people who think they are some sort of special just because they have different hair and skin as everyone else in the world. Having grown up in the South and seen first hand how racist and self centered black people can be, I find it laughable that they can't function in the world without playing the race/victim card and asking for special treatment. Now that we are in 2020 and racism no longer exists and black people can't point to any actual acts of racism they came up with this mysterious unseen and unreportable "systematic racism". Also how come you never hear African or Caribbean black people cry racism? Because they weren't brainwashed from birth to play the victim like American black people are, it's actually very sad that black people can't figure this out and fix it themselves.

John Dutko

This guy succinctly provides a valid rebuttal:

“[…] There’s no such thing as white pride in part because there is no white culture. You can have pride based on you ethnicity like Scottish, German, Irish and even have regional pride like southern pride. These things usually apply to you cultural identity, like how you grew up, etc. […] some people argue:”Well, other colors have pride?”. No they don’t. Chicano, Latino Pride, Asian pride. These are not colors. The one exception is black pride and that’s because they’ve had an unique experience no one else has. Black Americans were robbed of their culture. They don’t know where they come from. […] What they do know, is that their American experience was similar. […] the thing that connects them, is the color of their skin and how society has treated them as a result. You also have to consider where the terms white pride and black pride originated. White pride was coined by white supremacists, black pride is from the black power and Civil Rights Movement. So one represents superiority and hate and the other a fight for equality.”


Mike Hunt

This! 100% Truth!

Catherine Simmons

Hey Derek005 just goes to show how ignorant some can be. I am a Democrat so you are the one who is simply wrong. You have to stop lumping all who disagree with you into one pot. You sound like a very angry person. I have a 2 MBA's and am by no means a Deplorable. Your posts on here are insulting to not only Democrats but to all reasonable human beings. Obama care was a disaster and the Dems know it too so please do not preach to anyone. I call things the way I see them you should try it as it makes for a much better and productive conversation. All you seem to want to do when you post is tell everyone who may have a different opinion than you that they are bad people and you start insulting them. You complain about Trump well you sound just like the person you are complaining about. Come On Man there is a big beautiful wall on our southern border so I wonder where you have been for the past 4 years. A good leader never panics the masses and that has been so throughout history. I have heard Dems as well as some Republicans blame Trump for the Covid 19, lets call it as it is, It came from China and unleased on the world. Trump didn't bring this plague upon us and kill 222,000 people Come On Man get real. You must stop judging people who might have a different view on some things from you as it makes you look ignorant. Have a wonderful day and do some thinking before you post again. Oh by the way I am not old nor am I a racist or bigot. If you keep your insults up you will probably be removed from posting any further comments here. I think you are the one with the racist rants on here so think about it.

Star Man

Lol Come on man, no one believes you’re a democrat.

Catherine Simmons

starman, oh gosh you must have a crystal ball. I can assure you I am a lifelong Dem and proud to be but I am also reasonable person and like to listen to everybody's opinion but not insults. Got it? Don't like to called a racist and bigot either do you?

John Dutko

Progress on wall (view in incognito if paywalled):


List of all Trumps scandals since 2017 by week:


Leaked Reports Show White House Knew Of COVID-19 Spike As Trump Downplayed Crisis:


Trump botched this. He golfed while people died. He doesnt care and he has no reason why you should vote for him other than self preservation from prison. He has nothing to offer America. Benedict Arnold got nothing on Trump.

Catherine Simmons

Good Grief people if we make a holiday for every person who or event we have had in the history of this Country with all the different people who have come here we would have a holiday 365 days a year. We would never work or do anything just celebrate holidays. How stupid is all this. No we shouldn't celebrate Juneteenth that's a Texas thing if they want to make it a holiday that's their business. Who the heck cares what Texas does. Let's worry more about Virginia and what has been taken away from our history/removed/destroyed/changed and completely erased from our History. Lets focus on that. I am telling all of you Obama started all this race stuff and it's horrible. If all the whites were so racist Obama would have never been President, the whites voted for him. So all of you on here that want history erased/added to knock it off. Most of his generation now days are totally ignorant as to Virginia history much less US history but it's our history the good the bad and the ugly. Thanks for reading.

Change Craford

Simple, You are simply wrong! Obama didn't cause any race stuff at all and if he did please post it and not from Fox. You deplorables know that Trump has brought a record deficit, the tax cut for the corporations and very rich and nothing has trickled down to most of you poorly educated deplorables. Obama never said anything or re-tweeted anything that was racial. You folks know that Trump lies over and over again, but yet you still support him. I bet you don't let others lie to you do you? You must be fine with Trump trying to repeal the Obama Care. I bet you and some of your family member have medical issues that Obama Care has helped you with. Trump claimed to have had a plan to replace it, yet we still don't see nothing. Just like the wall still hasn't been built, no infrastructure and over 222,00o people are dead because Trump did not want to panic people. If you are still with Trump, you are just a plain old racist and bigot. He has nothing to offer.


I see derek005's Zoom call with his middle school teacher is over? He must of wanted to post something before playing Nintendo with his little school pals online?


This is totally ridiculous, why should the commonwealth of Virginia where arguably some of the greatest history in our nation happened start celebrating a Texas holiday??? If you want to celebrate juneteenth go move to Houston and celebrate it there.

John Dutko

Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation - which had become official January 1, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on the Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive Order. However, with the surrender of General Lee in April of 1865, and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment, the forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance.

It should be a Federal holiday. It is a shame that ending slavery seems to still be a political issue.


On June 19th 1865 black people of Virginia had already been free for two years and that day meant absolutely nothing to the black people of Virginia, it was literally just another day for them. I agree that there "could" be a conversation about making it a federal holiday, but black people already have MLK day so not sure if America should have two federal holiday for some small minority group when this country has so many other ethnic groups living here.

Jimi Weaver

@ fake_journalist your statement that enslaved people were free in Virginia by 1863 while not technically false, was not true in practice. The 1863 Emancipation Proclamation freed all slaves in States which were in rebellion against the Union, but the reality was that most if not all enslaved people in Virginia weren’t freed until sometime after the end of the Civil War in April 1865

Lynne June

I don’t think I that it’s a political issue. I’d never heard of it before living in Texas. I just think that many people who have never lived in Texas or who aren’t Black understand what the holiday is. In that sense, better education on the history and broader meaning is important to help people understand.

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