Washington and Oregon Pass Bills to Make Juneteenth a Legal State Holiday: 'We Must Not Forget'

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Jason Duaine Hahn
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This month, Washington and Oregon both passed legislation to make Juneteenth — a day that commemorates the freeing of enslaved people in Texas in 1865 — official state holidays.

According to the Associated Press, Washington officials passed a measure to make Juneteenth a paid state holiday with a bipartisan 47-1 vote on Friday. The measure will now head to Gov. Jay Inslee for his approval.

"Today, we can take an actual step toward reconciliation," Sen. T'wina Nobles said after the vote, according to The Spokesman-Review.

According to Juneteenth.com, Union soldiers led by Major General Gordon Granger arrived at Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, and informed enslaved people there they were free. But Granger's announcement in Galveston came two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation — which freed all slaves in the Confederate states — went into effect.

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Since the Union did not have a strong presence in Texas at the time, the Emancipation Proclamation was not widely enforced. It wasn't until General Robert E. Lee's surrender in April 1865 and Granger's arrival that the Union was able to impose the law, the website said.

Calls to make Juneteenth an official holiday have increased over the last year thanks to a renewed focus on racial injustice in the country.

ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Abraham Lincoln welcomes freed slaves in Richmond, Virginia

Like many other states, Washington previously designated Juneteenth as a day of remembrance, according to The Spokesman-Review.

"I think that recognition is the first step toward a certain kind of reconciliation that may be able to happen in our community," said Michael Bethely, co-chair of the Inland Northwest Juneteenth Coalition, the outlet reported.

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Oregon officials unanimously passed a bill to make Juneteenth a legal state holiday this month, according to KOPB.

South Dakota and Hawaii are the only other states that don't have an official observance of Juneteenth, the AP reported.

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"While this is an important day for many Black Americans, this is not a separate history, this is our history," House Majority Leader Rep. Barbara Smith Warner said on Thursday of Oregon's vote. "This is American history."

"For far too long, the experiences, contributions and stories of Black people and people of color have been excluded from our nation's legacy, Oregon's history and minimized in history books," she added, according to OPB. "We must not forget and we must continue to share this history so it's not forgotten."