ALBANY, N.Y. – Juneteenth, the commemoration of the emancipation of enslaved African Americans in the United States, has been recognized as a holiday for state employees.
In making the announcement Wednesday, June 17, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo also promised to make it an official state holiday next year.
"Friday is Juneteenth—a day to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States—and it's a day that is especially relevant in this moment in history," said Cuomo in an apparent reference to nationwide demands for justice and racial equality in the wake of the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor.
Cuomo signed the executive order later Wednesday.
“This is a moment where we could see change. And I want to be a force for change,” said the governor.
That change could come in law enforcement reforms and “expanded racial understanding, sensitivity and progress.”
“And if Juneteenth is part of that and recognition of what happened an understanding of what happened and an acknowledgment of that, great,” he added.
It’s 150 years later, and “there has still been rampant, systemic discrimination and injustice in this state and this nation, and we have been working to enact real reforms to address these inequalities,” Cuomo said.
Making Juneteenth an official state holiday will allow all New Yorkers to use the day “to reflect on all the changes we still need to make to create a more fair, just, and equal society."
State Assemblywoman Alicia Hyndman, a Democrat from Queens, last week introduced a bill making Juneteenth a public holiday in honor of “black and African-American freedom and achievements.”
Wednesday she read the following quote from former slave Pierce Harper from the 1937 WPA "Slave Narratives of Texas."
“When peace come they read the Emancipation law to the slaves people, they spent that night singin and shoutin. They wasn't slaves no more."
Harper was speaking about hearing he was free two and a half years after his “given freedom” in Texas.
“Black Emancipation Day, June 19th, 1865, also known as Juneteenth, is pivotal in the joy, congregation, and spiritual well-being of black people in America,” Hyndman said Wednesday, adding that she was looking forward to working with her colleagues and the governor “to ensure black history and liberation stays at the forefront of progress.”
Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when the news of liberation came to Texas more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on January 1, 1863.
African Americans across the state were made aware of their right to freedom on this day when Major Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston with federal troops to read General Order No. 3 announcing the end of the Civil War and that all enslaved were now free.
The troops were also to remain in Texas to help enforce emancipation there.
State Sen. Pete Harckham. D-South Salem, referring to the battle to “end systemic racism,” Wednesday applauded Cuomo’s move to make Juneteenth a holiday for state employees.
“Our work in establishing ‘justice for all’ is still not finished, but today’s action confirms we will continue moving toward a stronger future together while learning from the mistakes of the past,” he said.
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