On Saturday (June 19), members of the African American community are set to celebrate Juneteenth, the official end of slavery in the United States. Awareness of the holiday has gradually increased over the years, but in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, more states have decided to recognize the day. According to the Portland Press Herald, Maine has officially declared Juneteenth an official state holiday.
Last week, Maine’s Governor Janet Mills signed a bill designating June 19 a paid state holiday. The new law means that Juneteenth, like July 4th and Veterans Day, will be considered a day off of work and school.
Unfortunately, however, the closure of nonessential offices will not go into effect until next year.
“The end of slavery was made possible by the courage and sacrifice of nearly 200,000 former enslaved and free African Americans who fought for freedom and liberty alongside their fellow Union soldiers, including more than 70,000 soldiers from Maine,” Mills said in a statement. “While we have made progress in the long march to create a more perfect union since that fateful day, progress is by no means inevitable. By establishing Juneteenth as a State of Maine holiday, may we renew our commitment to fighting for a state and nation where equality, freedom and justice for all is more than an ideal but a reality.”
Though a majority of the country deems Juneteenth a holiday, Maine is one of a few states that actually consider the day a paid holiday for nonessential workers. Washington and Louisiana recently took similar steps to designate June 19 a paid holiday for state employees. Usher, however, wants Juneteenth to be recognized nationwide.
“[Juneteenth] is ours to honor the legacy of our ancestors, ours to celebrate and ours to remember where we once were as a people. And it should be a national holiday, observed by all Americans,” he said last year.
“Recognizing Juneteenth as a national holiday would be a small gesture compared with the greater social needs of Black people in America. But, it can remind us of our journey toward freedom, and the work America still has to do.”