Members of the Philadelphia Juneteenth Family traveled to Harrisburg on Wednesday, June 19, 2019 to witness Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) sign House Bill No. 619 into law, declaring Juneteenth a state holiday. “Proud to designate June 19 as #Juneteeth National Freedom Day to commemorate the ending of slavery in the United States,” Wolf tweeted. “On this day, let us recognize the importance of continuing to build a nation that truly reflects the self-evident truth that all people are created equal.”
On June 19, 1865, two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, word reached Texas that enslaved Africans were now free. That coincided with the arrival of Union troops ready to enforce the policy for the first time. What started as a local celebration of freedom in Galveston, Texas, a version of Emancipation Day, soon spread to other parts of the country, particularly during the civil rights era of the 1960s. Even after Galveston got wind of the proclamation on June 19th, slavery didn’t come to a full stop. Plantation owners sometimes waited to announce the news until government agents forced them to do so, often forcing the enslaved to continue working. Those who dared leave to seek freedom faced the threat of murder after escape. Texas became the first state to make Juneteenth an official holiday in 1979.
The US Senate passed a resolution last year recognizing “Juneteenth Independence Day” as a national holiday, but it has not yet been approved in the House. The National Juneteenth Observance Foundation, an organization based in Mississippi, has worked for years to get Juneteenth recognized or observed as a national holiday for years. In addition to working for national and state holiday observances, the foundation works with states to help create curricula for schools that will teach students about the history of Back people in America from slavery to freedom.
This year’s Juneteenth was accompanied by the first Congressional hearing on slavery reparations in over a decade. Pennsylvania joins 45 other states and the District of Columbia in celebrating the holiday.
Only Hawaii, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana do not.