A bill that would make Juneteenth — a Texas-centered observance marking the end of slavery in the United States — a legal state holiday passed in the Oregon House of Representatives this week with near-unanimous support.
House Bill 2168 would create an official state holiday on June 19, or “Juneteenth,” which commemorates the emancipation of enslaved peoples in the U.S., while also celebrating the dignity, freedom and contributions of Black Americans.
Juneteenth originated in Galveston, Texas, commemorating the day Union Army Gen. Gordon Granger proclaimed freedom from slavery in Texas on June 19, 1865.
Though President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had officially outlawed slavery in Texas more than two years earlier, enforcement of the proclamation had generally occurred only in areas reclaimed by the advance of Union troops.
The holiday was introduced to Oregon in 1945 by Clara Peoples, who first celebrated the holiday during her work break at the Vanport shipyards.
If passed by the Senate and signed into law, HB 2168 would officially recognize Peoples and other Black Oregonians who have made long-lasting contributions to Oregon’s history and cultural legacy.
“We remember the legacy of Clara Peoples, ‘Mother of Juneteenth,’ and the annual celebrations that kept this tradition alive long before this holiday was officially recognized,” Rep. Janelle Bynum, D- Clackamas, said in a statement.
In Oregon, the Legislative Assembly adopted Senate Joint Resolution 31 in 2001, to declare observance of “Juneteenth, June 19 of each year, to be a day for celebration statewide of the dignity and freedom of all citizens.”
“By making Juneteenth an official state holiday, we can both confront and acknowledge our shameful history of racial discrimination and white supremacist violence, while celebrating and recognizing the contributions Black Americans have made and continue to make in the face of systemic inequities,” House Majority Leader Barbara Smith Warner said. “Juneteenth can help Oregon look to a future of racial equity and justice.”
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 Governor Kate 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.
Closer to home, the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners also passed a resolution last year officially commemorating local observances of the Juneteenth holiday starting in 2021.
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