Rhode Island General Assembly passes legislation establishing Juneteenth as state holiday

Rhode Island will join the federal government next year in recognizing Juneteenth as an official holiday under legislation sponsored by Rep. Brianna E. Henries and Sen. Tiara Mack and approved by the General Assembly today.

The legislation (2023-S 0444A, 2023-H 5380A), which now goes to the governor, will establish “Juneteenth National Freedom Day” as a state holiday that will be held annually on June 19, beginning in 2024.

“Juneteenth is a holiday that recognizes the unjust and brutal chains that were forced upon millions of African Americans through the first half of our country’s history. It is also a joyous event when we celebrate the day that those torturous and inhumane chains were dropped to the ground in the name of freedom and humanity. By establishing Juneteenth as a state holiday, we will have a day to solemnly recognize and learn from the horrors that were perpetrated upon generations of Black Americans, while also embracing the vibrant culture and history that African Americans have contributed to our diverse and vast country. Not all chains of oppression were broken on June 19 and there is still much work to be done to reach a truly equal and unbiased society. However, by officially recognizing and celebrating Juneteenth as a holiday, we do have an opportunity to come together toward that better tomorrow,” said Senator Mack (D-Dist. 6, Providence).

Said Representative Henries (D-Dist. 64, East Providence, Pawtucket), “Recognizing Juneteenth as a state holiday is a testament to our collective commitment to acknowledging the painful legacy of slavery while celebrating the progress we have made as a nation. It is an opportunity to educate and enlighten all Rhode Islanders about this significant chapter in American history, fostering a deeper understanding and appreciation of the ongoing journey toward true equality. It’s our hope that Juneteenth becomes a day when Rhode Islanders unite in joy and uplift the beautiful, diverse and rich culture we continue to build in our nation.”

Juneteenth is marked on June 19 around the country to commemorate the emancipation of slaves in the states that left the Union. Although the Emancipation Proclamation took effect Jan. 1, 1863, slave owners in the Confederacy ignored it through the end of the Civil War in 1865. Even though the war ended on May 9, it wasn’t until June 19 that Gen. Gordon Granger, having assumed command of Texas in Galveston, issued an order declaring that all slaves in Texas were to be immediately considered free. The message was met with celebrations by the newly freed slaves, and the date became an annual commemoration of the end of slavery, celebrated by many all over the country.

The federal government first recognized Juneteenth as a federal holiday in 2021.

Establishing it as a state holiday was one of the priorities of the General Assembly’s Black, Latino, Indigenous, Asian-American and Pacific Islander Caucus this year.




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