Bill Making Juneteenth Official State Holiday Passes Senate Unanimously

The Oregon Senate on Tuesday unanimously passed House Bill 2168, making Juneteenth — a Texas-centered observance marking the end of slavery in the United States — an official state holiday every June 19 beginning in 2022.

Lawmakers said the holiday will serve to honor the freedom of enslaved people in the United States, acknowledge Oregon’s racist roots, and celebrate the contributions of Black Americans in the face of inequity and systemic oppression.

“The Emancipation Proclamation news arrived in waves to the enslaved Black women and men of my family,” Senator Lew Frederick, Democrat from Portland, said in a press release. “Family stories say, ‘Joy was the first emotion, and next skepticism.’

“However, hope stood at the center of a possible future for my family and so many families. That hope continues to this day. So does the skepticism. The two can dance together, and in that dance, we can progress, and we can amplify hope.”

An Emancipation Day celebration in Richmond, Va., on June 19, 1905

On June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas, and issued General Order Number 3, which required the immediate freedom of more than 250,000 enslaved African Americans in the Lone Star State.

Union troops marched throughout Galveston to spread the word that all slaves were free. Juneteenth is also known as Emancipation Day, Jubilee Day and Freedom Day.

The holiday was introduced to Oregon in 1945 by Clara Peoples, who first celebrated Juneteenth during her work break at the Vanport shipyards. HB 2168 officially recognizes Peoples and other Black Oregonians who have made long-lasting contributions to Oregon’s history and cultural legacy.

“Miss Clara Peoples is foundational to Oregon, her family is the reason we have unofficially observed this holiday and the Peoples have remained central in framing the expectation of a more equitable tomorrow,” Frederick said.

Clara Peoples, known in Oregon as the “Mother of Juneteenth.”

Oregon was the only state to enter the Union with Black exclusion laws prohibiting Black Americans from owning property or making contracts, which — though they appear to have been rarely enforced — remained on the books for decades.

In the 1920s, Oregon had the largest Ku Klux Klan membership per capita in the United States. And the state’s constitution was drafted with racially charged language such as “negroes,” “mulattoes” and “whites” — which was not removed until 2002.

“Juneteenth is not the date all slaves were freed,” Frederick acknowledged. “Juneteenth is not the date that Black Americans, or Black Oregonians, were guaranteed comfort, relief or safety. [But] Juneteenth was a step forward and a marker of hope, one we must continue to build upon.

“This official holiday will recognize that the people of Oregon, despite our past, can take the veil of ignorance away, and each year choose to have hope – on Juneteenth and every day thereafter.”

Oregon Senator Lew Frederick (bottom) photographed with his great-grandparents, parents and sister Karla in 1954. Courtesy Oregon Senate Democrats

The bill will head back to the House for a concurrence vote on a minor amendment before heading to the desk of Oregon Governor Kate Brown for her signature.

The first Juneteenth celebrations began in Texas in 1866, where Black communities gathered for parades, cookouts, prayer gatherings, historical and cultural readings, as well as musical performances.

Texas made it an official state holiday in 1980, and since then, 47 other states and the District of Columbia have commemorated the day by marking it either as a state holiday or observance.

HB 2168 was introduced at the request of Brown, who’d announced her intentions to do so last June, in the wake of nationwide Black Lives Matter protests that followed the killing of Minnesotan George Floyd at the hands of former police officers.

One of the officers, Derek Chauvin, was found guilty of Floyd’s murder in April.

Closer to home, the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners also passed a resolution last year officially commemorating local observances of the Juneteenth holiday starting this year.

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