Last week, Assemblymember Akilah Weber (D-La Mesa) announced the introduction of Assembly Bill (AB) 1655, legislation that would make Juneteenth a paid holiday in California.
AB 1655 is co-authored by Assemblymember Reginald Jones-Sawyer (D-South Los Angeles) and Mia Bonta (D-Oakland). Weber, Bonta and Jones-Sawyer are all members of the California Legislative Black Caucus.
“It is time that June 19th has the status it deserves in California to honor the significant contributions of Black Americans to our nation and reflect on the long struggle for freedom,” Weber said, speaking during an Assembly session Jan. 15. “By making Juneteenth an official state holiday, California would demonstrate its commitment to celebrating the emancipation of all slaves.”
If the Legislature approves AB 1655 and Gov. Newsom signs it into law, it would amend current statutes to include June 19th as an official state holiday for public schools, community colleges, and California State University systems. It would also grant paid time-off to all state employees.
Juneteenth commemorates the day American forces declared that enslaved people in Galveston, Texas were freed – more than two years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863.
On June 19th, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger led troops into Galveston, Texas, to announce the end of the Civil War and the institution of slavery. As a result, thousands of enslaved people in Texas were among some of the last to be informed of their liberation.
Historians say that incident captures a broader reality: many enslaved Black people across the South working on plantations did not know about the Emancipation Proclamation – or that they had been freed – until much later.
Today, the celebration of that joyous occasion in Texas has spread around the nation, with cities and communities in California joining to mark that all-important milestone in the American journey to freedom.
In June last year, President Biden proclaimed Juneteenth an official federal holiday. It is the first commemoration to become a national holiday since President Ronald Reagan declared Martin Luther King Jr. Day a holiday 39 years ago.
Juneteenth is now a paid state holiday in nine states, including Texas, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington, Oregon, and Illinois.
“Juneteenth is an important and special annual celebration for Black culture, resilience, and achievement,” said Weber. “Designating this date as a paid state holiday mirrors the federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.”
Jones-Sawyer said people of all races and backgrounds in the state should commemorate the holiday.
“This is a significant milestone for African Americans, to have a date recognized by our state that is celebrated by all Californians,” said Jones-Sawyer. “AB 1655 is an inclusive act marking a key point in our nation’s history – one we should never forget or ignore, and one that correctly balances the American scale of freedom from 3/5ths to a whole.”