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Rhode Island To Celebrate Juneteenth As A State Holiday

Juneteenth, which has been historically connected to Texas since its inception, has been receiving more widespread celebration since the day was made a national holiday in 2021.

Rhode Island will celebrate Juneteenth as a state holiday for the first time in its history.

In 2023, Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee signed a bill establishing Juneteenth National Freedom Day as an official state holiday set to begin in 2024.

According to the press release, McKee recognized the holiday’s importance to Black people of the state. “Today, Rhode Island makes a crucial and official recognition of the horrors and injustices of slavery,” McKee said. “Making Juneteenth an official holiday in Rhode Island is an important act that acknowledges our past, highlights the progress we’ve made toward creating a more equal and just world, and underscores the work that lies ahead. On behalf of all Rhode Islanders, I thank all the leaders and community members who led the charge and ensured that this significant chapter in our nation’s history is properly recognized for generations to come.”

As Helen Baskerville-Dukes, the President and Executive Director of Rhode Island’s Juneteenth Committee, told ABC 6, there was a two-and-a-half-year gap between the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, which was issued on Jan 1. 1863, and the words of freedom to reach the ears of the enslaved. “So it’s a two and a half year gap, it was passed in 1863 and it took two and a half years for it to get to the rest of the slaves, to be notified that they were free.”

Baskerville-Dukes continued, “It’s important because Black history is American history, and of course Black history is surrounded around slavery, so because of the Emancipation and the commemoration around the African slaves being freed, it is necessary that we remember how far America has come.”

Baskerville-Dukes also expounded on the history of what led Juneteenth to become a holiday in Rhode Island, saying, “So we started in 2019 here, there were small Juneteenth celebrations going on, but we brought to a larger level here and in 2019 we started with a festival, then we started adding on other events such as an awards gala where we celebrated grassroots businesspeople and organizers and all the wonderful things they were doing in the community. And then after the gala we added on youth day, which we focus on literacy and closing the literacy gap amongst African-American youth.”

In 2020, Annette Gordon-Reed, the author of On Juneteenth, traced how Juneteenth has spread from Texas to everywhere that Texans settled once they left the state in an essay for The New Yorker. “Black Texans had moved all over the country, carrying their traditions with them. It was fitting that their legacy was, in part, this celebration, which honored black humanity in the face of a powerful community that continued to reject it.”

As Jelani Cobb wrote for the same publication two years earlier, Juneteenth functions as a reference point for the pivot of a nation.

“On June 19, 1865, the nearly two hundred thousand men, women, and children enslaved in Texas learned of their emancipation, two and a half years after Lincoln had issued the proclamation terminating slavery in states rebelling against the union. The institution of slavery was essentially an open-air prison and proved remarkably successful, at least in this instance, at the kind of information control that exploitation relies on.”

Cobb continued, “Juneteenth, the annual celebration marking the day that this postponed freedom arrived in Texas, occupies a strange niche in American culture, isolated as a Black tradition, as if the currents of slavery and its death did not shape the direction of the nation in its entirety.”

Juneteenth, which has been historically connected to Texas since its inception, has been celebrated more widely since the day was made a national holiday in 2021. Juneteenth, which is celebrated each year on the 19th of June, marks the date that the last enslaved persons were informed that they were free from the bondage of slavery in 1865.