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Rep. Larry Selders House Bill 554 is set to be signed into law. Photo: Vitalii Abakumov /Getty Images
Rep. Larry Selders House Bill 554 is set to be signed into law. Photo: Vitalii Abakumov /Getty Images

Juneteenth to become official state holiday in Louisiana

The bill, introduced by Baton Rouge Rep. Larry Selders, passed unanimously through both of the state’s legislative chambers.

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Juneteenth is on the way to becoming an official state holiday in Louisiana after the Legislature unanimously passed a bill observing the emancipation of enslaved Africans in the United States.

Gov. John Bel Edwards is expected to sign into law Baton Rouge Rep. Larry Selders’ House Bill 554.

On Tuesday June 8, Selders told USA Today Network that he is thrilled to witness this type of bipartisan effort that “we can all celebrate together.” 

Selders' bill won final passage in the Senate on Monday, June 7, on a 37-0 vote, after the House approved it with a vote of 87-0.

"I really hope making Juneteenth an official state holiday raises awareness about this important event in American history," Selders said. "I'm hoping folks all around the state will learn more about it and celebrate it together."

Juneteenth, which is celebrated as an official holiday or commemoration in 47 states, is celebrated each year on June 19. 

This is the day in 1865 that federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas to free the remaining enslaved people there — more than two months after Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to end the Civil War. 

The delayed announcement was delivered by Union Major General Gordon Granger, informing the people of Texas that in accordance with the Emancipation Proclamation, all slaves are free. 

“This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection therefore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer,” read General Order Number 3

The 13th Amendment, which formally abolished slavery, was ratified later that year.

Juneteenth is observed in some form across the U.S., and a majority of states either recognize it as an official holiday or an unofficial day of celebration. It is still not a federal holiday.

Texas was the first state to formally mark the date as an annual state holiday. Texas, Virginia and New York are the only states that currently celebrate the day as a paid state holiday.

South Dakota remains the only state that has not yet recognized Juneteenth as either a state holiday or a day of observance.

Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated memorialization of the end of slavery in the U.S., according to Juneteenth.com

“In cities across the country, people of all races, nationalities and religions are joining hands to truthfully acknowledge a period in our history that shaped and continues to influence our society today. Sensitized to the conditions and experiences of others, only then can we make significant and lasting improvements in our society,” the website reads. 

Selders said he wants Louisiana and the rest of the nation to realize that although the Civil War ended in April 1865, there is more to the story. 

“We had, like, 13 parishes that still had slavery until three years later, and so that’s what the Juneteenth bill is about. You know, acknowledging the freeing of the slaves”, Selders said. 

The holiday has been growing in popularity as more people begin learning parts of history from this time period they may have not been taught before. 

Selders told WAFB 9 that he worked closely with Baton Rouge Councilwoman Erica Green, Rep. Ted James, and the legislative Black Caucus, which have all been very supportive of his efforts. 

Jason Roberts, from the “Now and Then African American Museum,” says that this recognition has been long overdue. 

“The celebration of Juneteenth is special because we celebrate the day when the last of us were freed”, said Roberts, adding that it’s important to learn more than what most history books share. 

“I think that if everyone actually participated in Juneteenth and got in the spirit of it we would all come together a lot easier”, said Roberts.

 

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