June 18 (UPI) — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed an executive order declaring Juneteenth an official paid holiday for state employees to recognize the emancipation of African Americans in the United States.
The Democratic governor also announced Wednesday that he will be advancing legislation to make June 19 an official state holiday from next year so “New Yorkers can use this day to reflect on all the changes we still need to make to create a more fair, just and equal society.”
“Although slavery ended over 150 years ago, there has still been rampant, systemic discrimination and injustice in this state and this nation and we have been working to enact real reforms to address these inequalities,” he said.
Juneteenth marks the day in 1865 when Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, and announced the end of the Civil War and slavery, nearly two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln had legally freed slaves in the state.
Though the holiday goes back to the late 1860s, Texas was the first to make Juneteenth an official state holiday in 1980 with 45 other states and the District of Columbia following to commemorate or recognize the day, according to the Congressional Research Service of the U.S. Congress.
Cuomo’s executive order came after Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced Tuesday that he intends to make Juneteenth a permanent paid holiday instead of just a day when the government issues a proclamation as it has traditionally done.
“It’s time to elevate Juneteenth not just as a celebration by and for some Virginians, but one acknowledged and commemorated by all of us,” Northam said. “It mattered then because it marked the end of slavery in this country, and it matters now because it says to black communities, this is not just your history — this is everyone’s shared history, and we will celebrate it together.”
The moves come as states throughout the country propose laws and reforms to improve equality amid widespread protests and unrest following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who was killed late last month by a white police officer.
U.S. President Donald Trump and his campaign had stirred controversy over the date last week when it was announced that he was to hold his first rally since the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States on June 19 in Tulsa, Okla., which is the site of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre that resulted in up to 300 African Americans killed.
Trump announced on Saturday that the rally would be rescheduled.