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Apr. 9—Howard County Executive Calvin Ball announced Thursday that Juneteenth, a holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States, will be an official county holiday.
Starting this year, the county will observe the June 19 holiday as Juneteenth National Freedom Day, Ball said at a news conference at Oakland Manor in Columbia.
Juneteenth, which has been celebrated by African Americans since the late 1880s but has gained more interest and recognition in recent years, celebrates the day — June 19, 1865 — that a Union general informed slaves in Galveston, Texas, of their freedom and that the Civil War had ended. The announcement in Texas was two months after the end of the war and more than two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation.
"This day has become not only a time to commemorate liberation from the institution of slavery but also a time to highlight resilience, solidarity and our shared culture," Ball said Thursday. "It is the oldest known celebration commemorating the end of slavery in the United States."
As an official holiday, county employees will receive paid leave. This year, June 19 is a Saturday, so county employees will be off the day before.
"Juneteenth is a time of reflection and celebration not just for African Americans, but for all," said Yolanda Sonnier, director of the county's Office of Human Rights. "Juneteenth is a part of American history. Juneteenth is part of all of our stories."
The Howard County Center for African American Culture, a museum located next to Oakland Manor, currently is planning its annual Juneteenth celebration. Everlene Cunningham, the center's chair, said the announcement is a "giant step."
"The museum has been celebrating Juneteenth in this county for a number of years, and the county executive has always been so supportive in this regard," Cunningham said. "We applaud this act, and we are very happy that he has done so. We invite everyone to join us on June 19 for our annual Juneteenth celebration."
The addition of Juneteenth to the county's holiday calendar is the second holiday change Ball has made in the past year.
In September, he announced the county would no longer celebrate Columbus Day and instead changed the name of the holiday to Indigenous Peoples' Day in honor of Native Americans.