Well, good people, it’s finally happening: Virginia, the state that was once home to the capital of the Confederacy, is set to make Juneteenth a paid holiday. Gov. Ralph Northam announced his proposal to make the holiday that commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S. an official state holiday Tuesday.
“Every year we celebrate July 4th, Independence Day,” Northam said during a press conference. “But that freedom we celebrate did not include everyone.”
Though Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery on paper in 1863, thousands of slaves across the South didn’t know they were free until much later.
In remote Galveston, Texas, slaves didn’t learn about their freedom until June 19, 1865, when Union troops arrived, more than two months after Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered in Appomattox, Virginia, in April of 1865.
“It finally shut the door on enslavement of African American people. And while it did not end racism, black oppression or violence, it is an important symbol,” Northam said.
Northam says he believes Virginia is only the second state in the nation to celebrate Juneteenth, after Texas. He says Virginia has recognized Juneteenth before, but not as an official holiday.
“It’s time we elevate this [Juneteenth], not just a celebration by and for some Virginians, but one acknowledged and celebrated by all of us because that’s how important this event is,” Northam said.
Hip-hop icon Pharrell Williams—who is a Virginia Beach native—stood by Northam as he made his announcement and took the stage after him to talk about just how epic this is.
“This year, Juneteenth will look like no Juneteenth before,” Williams said. “People of all ages and races, our advocates and allies as well, will stand together in solidarity for black people like never before … It’s already happening in the streets. And we love you for that. I’m grateful for those that are standing with us. By the way, those are Americans in the streets, not just people who look like me, those are Americans, of all types.”
It’s a great look for Virginia—especially coming less than two weeks after it was announced that monuments celebrating Robert E. Lee and four other leaders of the Confederacy will be removed from Richmond’s Monument Avenue—but it’s also an inspiring thing for black people all over the nation to see. Hopefully, this will start a trend that other states will follow and, one day, Juneteenth will be a nationally recognized paid holiday.
The next Juneteenth is coming up this Friday, June 19.