Jun 15, 2022 - Politics

Utahns celebrating first Juneteenth as state holiday

Photo illustration of a pattern of Juneteenth flags.
Photo Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios. Photo: Billie Weiss/Getty Images

For the first time, Utahns will get to celebrate Juneteenth, the day that commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S., as an official state holiday.

  • On Tuesday, a Juneteenth flag-raising ceremony was held at the Salt Lake City and County Building.

Details: The Utah Legislature passed a bill this year recognizing June 19 as a state holiday.

  • It was co-sponsored by state Rep. Sandra Hollins (D-Salt Lake City), the first Black woman to serve in the Utah Legislature. She originally introduced a bill in 2016 to make Juneteenth a commemorative holiday.
  • Under the law, the holiday will be observed on Monday, June 20.

Why it matters: June 19, 1865, was when Union troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to tell remaining slaves they were free and that President Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation two years prior.

  • Black Americans have celebrated the holiday since 1866.
  • President Joe Biden signed a law in 2021 making it a federal holiday.
A crowd gathers around Juneteenth flag raising ceremony in Salt Lake City.
A crowd gathered as the Juneteenth flag was raised at the Salt Lake City and County Building on June 14, 2022. Photo by: Kim Bojórquez/Axios

What they're saying: "It's an honor to be joining our Black community today and raising our Juneteenth flag in Salt Lake City," said Mayor Erin Mendenhall. "This is everybody's capital city in Utah, whether you're a Salt Laker or you live in another county far from here."

Betty Sawyer, president of the NAACP's Ogden chapter, advocated for making Juneteenth a state holiday for several years.

  • "As we look at where we are with Juneteenth today as a state holiday, as a federal holiday, and all of the work that has happened across the state to promote equity, inclusion, and justice, it's important that this becomes a part of our Juneteenth celebration as well," ​​she said.
  • "The importance of truth-telling, that reckoning we need to have with our past in order for us to move forward and vibrantly into our future."

Yes, but: Sawyer said more work needs to be done in the state to address racial discrimination against Black Americans in education, employment and housing.

The big picture: Since George Floyd's murder by a white Minneapolis police officer in 2020 sparked nationwide protests over racial injustice in the U.S., more states have introduced legislation to officially recognize Juneteenth as a holiday.

Flashback: In 2000, Utah became one of the last states in the nation to recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a holiday.

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