Juneteenth now a state holiday in Utah

SALT LAKE CITY — Last week Utah Gov. Spencer Cox signed a law making Juneteenth National Freedom Day, which commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S., a state holiday.

Last year President Joe Biden signed a bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday.

The celebration has garnered renewed interest in recent years, following protests over police brutality and the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and other Black Americans.

A history lesson courtesy of the New York Times:

On June 19, 1865, about two months after the Confederate general Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, Va., Gordon Granger, a Union general, arrived in Galveston, Texas, to inform enslaved African-Americans of their freedom and that the Civil War had ended.

General Granger’s announcement put into effect the Emancipation Proclamation, which had been issued more than two and a half years earlier on Jan. 1, 1863, by President Abraham Lincoln.

The holiday received its name by combining June and 19. The day is also sometimes called “Juneteenth Independence Day,” “Freedom Day” or “Emancipation Day.”

The state law was sponsored by Rep. Sandra Hollins (D-Salt Lake City), who was the first Black woman to serve in the Utah legislature.

Under the bill, if June 19 falls on a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday, it will be observed the following Monday. If the holiday falls on a weekend, it will be observed on Monday.

Utah was one of the last states in the country to name Martin Luther King Jr. Day after the iconic Black civil rights leader. In 1984, when MLK Day was established by the federal government, Utah named the holiday “Human Rights Day.” It wasn’t officially changed until 2000.

Black Americans account for roughly 1.5% of Utah’s population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

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