The Hennepin County Board approved Juneteenth as a paid holiday for its more than 8,000 employees Tuesday, a move it hopes will be followed by local businesses and cities and state and federal government.
Juneteenth is a holiday that celebrates the emancipation of enslaved people. Angela Conley and Irene Fernando, the County Board's first two commissioners of color, pushed less than a year ago for the June 19 holiday, also known as Freedom Day.
The board declined to give Juneteenth full holiday status. Instead, the board added a new floating holiday, which would have allowed employees to take June 19 off, but removed Christmas Eve as a paid holiday.
Several commissioners at the time didn't want to spend the money for a new holiday when the county was struggling with budget constraints due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Conley said Tuesday that she has already received calls from city officials and business owners who want to make Juneteenth a paid holiday. Minneapolis approved a similar action last week.
"As an employer, Hennepin County recognizes a wide range of holidays, so I believe it is time for us to commemorate the end of slavery in this country as a holiday. I owe all my rights to the community leaders and activists, particularly Black women and Black youth, who thought to fight for rights that didn't impact them," said Fernando. "I've been able to gain and enjoy the rights I have today due to those efforts."
June 19 falls on a Saturday this year so employees will be off and county offices will be closed on Friday, June 18.