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Tennessee makes Juneteenth a paid holiday



Lawmakers in Tennessee have voted to make Juneteenth a paid holiday, the latest state to do so.

The Tennessee House voted 61-18 to change June 19 from a “special day of observance” to a state holiday beginning this year, The Nashville Tennessean reported. The state Senate had done so in March

Marchers carry a Juneteenth flag as they stage a reenactment celebration in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 2021. Two days earlier, Juneteenth was designated a federal holiday, with President Joe Biden urging Americans “to learn from our history.” Since then, several states have made Juneteenth, which marks the day in 1865 when the last enslaved African Americans learned they were free, a holiday, with Tennessee the latest to do so. (Photo: Mark Felix/AFP via Getty Images)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee told WKRN-TV he supported commemorating “Juneteenth with a state holiday, both to recognize an important day for freedom in America.” 

Juneteenth, the day celebrating enslaved people’s emancipation, became a federal holiday in 2021. While every state in America recognizes Juneteenth, almost half have made it a paid holiday.

But state lawmakers have resisted creating another paid holiday, citing costs. Others believed Juneteenth wasn’t widely known, a position disputed by a Gallup poll that shows six in 10 Americans know what Juneteenth represents.

Failure to recognize such an important part of American history struck some as a slap in the face to Black people.

Mark Anthony Neal, a professor of African American studies at Duke University, called proclamations acknowledging Juneteenth “largely symbolic.” “If you really want to put skin in the game,” he told The New York Times, “you make it a paid holiday” commemorated by everyone, not just Black people. 

President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, ending forced enslavement in America. But it took more than two years, until June 19, 1865, for federal troops to reach Texas and tell its 250,000 enslaved people that they were free. 

The first Juneteenth celebration took place in Texas on June 19, 1866. In 1980, Texas became the first state to recognize Juneteenth as a holiday.

Now, 43 years later, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New York, Oregon, Ohio, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia, Washington and, joining them, Tennessee, are on that list, as noted by the Pew Charitable Trusts

The top cities to celebrate Juneteenth include Atlanta, Galveston, New York, Washington, D.C., and Detroit.

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