State and Local Governments Prepare to Celebrate Newest State Holiday: Juneteenth
June 19, or “Juneteenth,” commemorates the day in 1865 when knowledge of the Emancipation Proclamation and the abolishment of slavery reached the last remaining enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, nearly two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. Juneteenth has been celebrated throughout the country for more than 150 years and is known by many names, including Jubilee Day, Freedom Day, Liberation Day, Black Independence Day, and Emancipation Day.
In June 2021, President Biden signed legislation into law making Juneteenth the 11th U.S. federal holiday. Likewise, the Washington State Legislature adopted SHB 1016, making Juneteenth a paid state holiday, effective July 2021. Because June 19 is a Sunday this year, it will be observed for the first time as a state holiday on Monday, June 20, 2022.
How Are Some Washington Local Governments Recognizing Juneteenth?
While local governments are not required to follow either the federal or state legal holiday schedule — see RCW 1.16.050(6) — many have followed suit and officially recognized Juneteenth as a paid holiday for its employees. Among the jurisdictions that have adopted Juneteenth as a holiday are Asotin, Battle Ground, Bellingham , Bremerton, Burien, Burlington, Centralia, Edmonds, King County, Lynnwood, Redmond, Renton, Seattle, Snohomish County, Sumner, Walla Walla, Woodway, and Yakima.
Olympia has an agreement with the International Association of Fire Fighters–Mechanics that includes Juneteenth as a paid holiday, and examples of Juneteenth proclamations are located in MRSC’s Sample Document Library, including Kirkland's proclamation and Snohomish County’s resolution.
How is Juneteenth Celebrated?
People celebrate Juneteenth in a variety of ways, with events centering on Black history, traditions, and culture. Common activities include picnics, BBQs, parades, rodeos, and family and community gatherings. Red food and drink — including red lemonades and sodas, barbecue, watermelon, and red velvet cake — are often consumed. People and organizations also commemorate the holiday through acts of service and learning. Last year, the Washington State Historical Society compiled several resources related to Juneteenth on its website, including links to local celebrations.
Many local governments sponsor Juneteenth events. In 2020, Grand Rapids, Michigan, added Juneteenth as one of only five city-sponsored events, and this year the city amended its local ordinances to allow fireworks to be discharged on Juneteenth. In 2021, the City of Lynnwood hosted an online celebration of Juneteenth and offered free red velvet cake in a drive-through setting. This year, the City of Tukwila and King County Library System are partnering to host an event that includes books and resources, as well as civic engagement activities for youth, and the City of Vancouver is co-sponsoring a Juneteenth Freedom Celebration at a local park.
Local Efforts to Advance Racial Equity in Washington State
Following the murder of George Floyd and other racially motivated crimes and injustices, many local governments have made new or renewed commitments to advance racial justice and equity within government and in their communities. MRSC has compiled several examples of local initiatives and resources in these two blogs: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Efforts in Washington State and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiatives in Washington State – 2021 Update.
One such initiative is the City of Tacoma’s Heal the Heart program, which is a community-led effort to transform Tacoma into an anti-racist community. As part of the initiative, six Transformation Teams will be looking at the subjects of housing, health, economic equity, education, environment, and public safety. Central to the Heal the Heart program will be acknowledging harm done by long-standing systems and institutions, cultivating a deeper understanding of those harms through listening to those communities impacted, repairing the harm by taking steps to reduce and prevent harm, and transforming systems through community collaboration.
If your public agency has already declared Juneteenth a holiday, enjoy the opportunity to commemorate and celebrate this important day in history. If your public agency would like to officially recognize the holiday but hasn’t yet done so, it can use one of the several examples cited above as a model. If your public agency would like to plan its own or co-sponsor a Juneteenth event, we have some helpful tips regarding local government sponsored celebrations in A How-To Guide to Sponsoring Summer Celebrations.
Finally, if your public agency would like to do more to advance racial and social justice issues, in addition to the resources in the blogs linked above, MRSC has created the webpage Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Resources for Local Governments.
MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.