Juneteenth, West Virginia, State Holiday

West Virginia Makes Juneteenth A State Holiday

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice released a state proclamation declaring Juneteenth a state holiday.

On June 7, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice released a state proclamation declaring Juneteenth a state holiday. The proclamation officially makes June 19 a paid holiday for all public employees in West Virginia. 

According to WBOY, Juneteenth was declared a federal holiday in 2021 when President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act. Juneteenth commemorates the day enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, were informed that they were free as a result of the Emancipation Proclamation. As a result, the holiday is also referred to as Emancipation Day. 

According to Gov. Justice’s proclamation, “Now, therefore, I, Jim Justice, pursuant to the foregoing and by virtue of the authority vested in me as the Governor of the State of West Virginia, do hereby proclaim and order that Wednesday, June 19, 2024, shall be treated as if it were an official holiday, and the public employees of this State may be excused from their work duties on that day without charge against accrued annual leave.”

The creation of the federal holiday signaled an explosion in the celebration of the holiday, which gained renewed interest from politicians after the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by police officers in the summer of 2020, The New York Times reported. 

Mark Anthony Neal, an African-American studies professor at Duke University, told the Times that he felt like Juneteenth represented a chance for folks to catch their collective breaths following sweeping changes in the wake of the reckonings spurred by Floyd and Taylor’s deaths. 

“The stakes are a little different. I think Juneteenth feels a little different now, Neal said. “It’s an opportunity for folks to kind of catch their breath about what has been this incredible pace of change and shifting that we’ve seen.”

Opal Lee, affectionately referred to as the “Grandmother of Juneteenth,” was a key figure in generating momentum for the holiday to become a national holiday. “People just think of Juneteenth as a festival and as a Texas thing. Unity, freedom, is what Juneteenth is all about,” Lee told Oprah Daily in 2021. She described her inspiration for a march from Fort Worth to Washington, D.C. So I decided that I would walk from Fort Worth to Washington, D.C., doing two and a half miles in the morning and two and a half in the afternoon to symbolize that in Texas, the enslaved didn’t know they were free for two and a half years after everybody else.”