September 19, 2021

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Which States Have Made Juneteenth an Official State Holiday?

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The movement to more widely recognize and celebrate Juneteenth continues. Juneteenth is the remembrance of the last Black Americans who were emancipated, which occurred in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865. It began being celebrated almost immediately in Texas and spread throughout the South in the following years. It is considered the oldest emancipation celebration in the U.S.

However, there is some confusion over how many states recognize Juneteenth, how many include it as an official state holiday, and whether businesses will be giving their employees paid time off. Here’s a quick summary.

Oregon and Washington Make Juneteenth an Official State Holiday

This year, two states will newly recognize Juneteenth as official state holidays, meaning state employees will receive the day off of work. The two states to recognize Juneteenth as an official holiday this year are Oregon and Washington. Texas was the first state to make Juneteenth an official state holiday in 1980. The federal government has not made Juneteenth a national holiday, although bills have been introduced in recent years (including in 2021) to make it one.

State Holiday vs. Day of Observance/Recognition

Almost all states recognize Juneteenth in some capacity. Only North Dakota, South Dakota, and Hawaii fail to make it even a day of observance or ceremonial holiday. However, only a handful of states make Juneteenth an official state holiday. What’s the difference?

For an official state holiday, state employees are given the day off. Because teachers and anyone who works for the school district are employees of the state, this means schools are closed, as well. This incentivizes large businesses to also offer paid time off, so that employees can be with their families on state holidays, and because many employees with children in school would take the day off anyway. Put simply, when the state gives employees the day off, many private businesses follow. That is why making Juneteenth an official state or federal holiday can increase its cultural importance.

How States Recognize Juneteenth

Even if not an official state holiday, most states recognize Juneteenth in some fashion. The majority make it a day of recognition or a day of observance. For example, in Minnesota, the law states that “Each year the governor shall issue a proclamation honoring this observance and recognizing the important contributions African-Americans have made to Minnesota’s communities, culture, and economy. The governor may also take any additional action necessary to promote and encourage the observance of Juneteenth and public schools may offer instruction and programs on the occasion.” It is not, however, an official state holiday, and so state and local government employees, including schools, do not have the day off.

Where Is June 19th an Official State Holiday?

A handful of state have already made June 19th an official state holiday. Those states are:

  • Texas (1980)
  • Massachusetts (2007)
  • New York (2020)
  • Virginia (2020)
  • Washington (as of 2021)
  • Oregon (as of 2021)

Do Private Employers Have To Give Employees the Day Off?

Private employers are not obligated to give employees the day off for Juneteenth. This is true of all official state and federal holidays. However, many private employers have chosen to make June 19th a paid company holiday, as they do for other federal and state holidays such as July 4th and Thanksgiving.

There is also no federal law requiring employees to be paid time-and-a-half for working on a holiday. This, too, is something that many businesses do voluntarily as an incentive for employees to work on those days.

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