Gov. Jay Inslee has officially declared Juneteenth a state holiday in Washington.
He signed a slate of bills on Thursday including House Bill 1016, making June 19 a paid day off for state workers starting in 2022.
Juneteenth — also known as Emancipation Day and Freedom Day — marks the day when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, in 1865 and informed the last enslaved African Americans there that they were free.
Inslee said he was honored to sign the “joyous bill” during a signing ceremony at the state capitol.
“The holiday is a celebration of the resiliency and spirit of Black Americans, reminding us of our country’s past moral failures, alongside a persistent hope for a more equitable future,” he said.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Melanie Morgan, D-Parkland, passed the Washington State House in February and then the Senate in April.
Both Inslee and Morgan on Thursday said that while more work remains to push for equity, the bill is a great step forward.
“This says we belong as Black African Americans. That we are humans, and I believe it’s another step towards declaring Washington state as an anti racist state, which leads to reconciliation, healing, and true inclusion,” Morgan said.
The Metropolitan King County Council voted to make Juneteenth a county holiday last year. It will cost the county $4.8 million annually to pay 15,000 employees.
Washington was already one of 47 states that recognize Juneteenth as a holiday, but it was previously not a paid day off. Texas was the first state to officially recognize Juneteenth as a holiday in 1980; Washington did so in 2007.
There’s been growing momentum to designate the day as a national holiday, fueled by the Black Lives Matter protests demanding reforms following the killing of 46-year-old George Floyd by Minneapolis police.