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6/19/2023 Bill establishing Juneteenth as state holiday becomes law
Rhode Island will join the federal government next year in recognizing Juneteenth as an official holiday under legislation sponsored by Rep. Brianna E. Henries and Sen. Tiara Mack and signed into law today.

The legislation (2023-S 0444A2023-H 5380A), which passed the General Assembly last week, will establish “Juneteenth National Freedom Day” as a state holiday that will be held annually on June 19, beginning in 2024.

“Juneteenth is a holiday that recognizes the unjust and brutal chains that were forced upon millions of African Americans through the first half of our country’s history. It is also a joyous event when we celebrate the day that those torturous and inhumane chains were dropped to the ground in the name of freedom and humanity. By establishing Juneteenth as a state holiday, we will have a day to solemnly recognize and learn from the horrors that were perpetrated upon generations of Black Americans, while also embracing the vibrant culture and history that African Americans have contributed to our diverse and vast country.  Not all chains of oppression were broken on June 19 and there is still much work to be done to reach a truly equal and unbiased society.  However, by officially recognizing and celebrating Juneteenth as a holiday, we do have an opportunity to come together toward that better tomorrow,” said Senator Mack (D-Dist. 6, Providence). 

Said Representative Henries (D-Dist. 64, East Providence, Pawtucket), “Recognizing Juneteenth as a state holiday is a testament to our collective commitment to acknowledging the painful legacy of slavery while celebrating the progress we have made as a nation. It is an opportunity to educate and enlighten all Rhode Islanders about this significant chapter in American history, fostering a deeper understanding and appreciation of the ongoing journey toward true equality. It’s our hope that Juneteenth becomes a day when Rhode Islanders unite in joy and uplift the beautiful, diverse and rich culture we continue to build in our nation.”

Juneteenth is marked on June 19 around the country to commemorate the emancipation of slaves in the states that left the Union. Although the Emancipation Proclamation took effect Jan. 1, 1863, slave owners in the Confederacy ignored it through the end of the Civil War in 1865. Even though the war ended on May 9, it wasn’t until June 19 that Gen. Gordon Granger, having assumed command of Texas in Galveston, issued an order declaring that all slaves in Texas were to be immediately considered free. The message was met with celebrations by the newly freed slaves, and the date became an annual commemoration of the end of slavery, celebrated by many all over the country.
The federal government first recognized Juneteenth as a federal holiday in 2021.

Establishing it as a state holiday was one of the priorities of the General Assembly’s Black, Latino, Indigenous, Asian-American and Pacific Islander Caucus this year.

Gov. Dan McKee signed the bill today before a packed house in the State Room.

“Today, Rhode Island makes a crucial and official recognition of the horrors and injustices of slavery,” said Governor McKee. “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.”
The governor was joined for the signing by Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos, Representative Henries and Senator Mack, Juneteenth RI President Helen Baskerville-Dukes, and community leaders from across the state.
“Today’s bill signing finally enshrines Juneteenth, a significant observance and an important moment to reflect on our nation’s history, into state law with the respect it deserves. I am sincerely grateful to Senator Mack and Representative Henries for sponsoring this bill and to their cosponsors and the members of the General Assembly for their support,” said Lt. Governor Matos. “The story of Juneteenth, which celebrates the enforcement of the Emancipation Proclamation in Texas two years after it was issued in Washington, DC, is also a reminder of vast gap that exists between liberation on paper and real, actionable change for oppressed people. Let us use Juneteenth to not only celebrate the progress our country has made but to also recommit ourselves to eliminating poverty and racism and to addressing material effects they have on the lives of people of color in Rhode Island and around the country.”

IN PHOTO: Rep. Brianna E. Henries, left, Gov. Dan McKee, Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos and Sen. Tiara Mack at the bill signing.

For more information, contact:
Meredyth R. Whitty, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903
(401) 222-1923