It took more than 100 years for Juneteenth to become a federal holiday. President Biden took care of that a year ago, but there should be more to that recognition, advocates say. Just 18 states have provided funding for the day to be observed as a paid holiday, the New York Times reports. The day marks the belated legal end to slavery in the US, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued. Juneteenth "represents the ways in which freedom for Black people have been delayed," said state Rep. Anthony Nolan of Connecticut, per the AP. "And if we delay this, it's a smack in the face to Black folks."
One argument from opponents is that Juneteenth isn't widely enough known or understood to become a paid holiday. Republican Gov. Bill Lee earmarked the funding, but when the Tennessee bill came up for a hearing, Republican Sen. Joey Hensley said that in his discussions, only two of more than 100 of his constituents knew about the holiday. "I just think it’s putting the cart before the horse to make a holiday people don't know about," Hensley said. "We need to educate people first and then make a holiday if we need to." The bill has not passed the legislature.
As it is, state employees in many places can't take Juneteenth as a paid vacation day, per Axios; about 30% of private employers have made it a paid holiday. Turning the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday into a paid holiday also ignited a long, state-by-state debate. President Ronald Reagan proclaimed the federal holiday in 1983, but it was 1992 before Arizona made it a state holiday. The holiday is not about skipping work, a Maryland legislator said. "It will also give residents a day to think about the future that we want, while remembering the inequities of the past," said Democratic Del. Andrea Harrison. The day should be celebrated by all Americans, said a professor of African American studies at Duke University. "You think of Juneteenth and Independence Day as kind of bookends to this idea of American democracy and freedom," he said. (Read more Juneteenth stories.)