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Juneteenth becomes official holiday in Washington

A little over a month from now, Washington will celebrate Juneteenth as an official state holiday for the first time. Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill Thursday making the holiday official. And beginning next year, it will be a paid holiday for state employees.

State Rep. Melanie Morgan, a Democrat from Pierce County, sponsored the bill.

“This says we belong as Black African Americans, that we are human, and I believe it’s another step toward declaring Washington state as an antiracist state, which leads to reconciliation, healing and true inclusion,” Morgan said.

She says she hopes Juneteenth will be like July 4 – a holiday marked by all Washington residents. Like Independence Day, Juneteenth celebrations include parades, cookouts and fireworks.

Juneteenth — also known as Emancipation Day and Freedom Day — commemorates when the last enslaved African Americans learned they were free on June 19, 1865, in Galveston, Texas, where Union soldiers brought them the news two years after the Emancipation Proclamation.

Inslee calls the holiday a reminder of the country’s moral failures and a celebration of the resilience of Black Americans.
 
In 2007, the Legislature designated Juneteenth as a day of remembrance. South Dakota and Hawaii are the only other states that don’t have some sort of official observance of Juneteenth.

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Will James reports and produces special projects, including podcasts and series, for KNKX. He created and hosted the Outsiders podcast, chronicling homelessness in Olympia for more than a year, in partnership with The Seattle Times.