House votes to make Juneteenth a state holiday in Oregon

Oregon

Bill's floor manager says end of slavery in nation is 'not a separate history; this is our history.'

The Oregon State Capitol in Salem, March 3, 2020. (KOIN)

The Portland Tribune and Pamplin Media Group’s papers are a KOIN 6 News media partner

PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — Oregon’s next official state holiday is proposed to be the anniversary of the final proclamation of the end of slavery in the United States.

June 19, “Juneteenth,” would be the 11th state holiday under House Bill 2168, which cleared the House on a 53-0 vote Thursday, April 8, and went to the Senate.

Rep. Mark Meek, D-Oregon City, even concluded his support of the bill with an a cappella rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Also known as the Black national anthem, its words were written by James Weldon Johnson and music by J. Rosamond Johnson, his brother, in time for the 1905 commemoration of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday.

“We all know we are still dealing with systemic racism and racial discrimination in our country,” said Meek, one of a record nine members of color in the House. “But each time injustice has reared its ugly head, it has been met with resistance.

“Slavery was met with the work of abolitionists. Jim Crow was met with the civil rights movement. The rise of racially discriminatory police violence is now being met with strong affirmation that Black lives matter.”

Portland and Multnomah County declared June 19 a holiday for their public employees last year, just weeks after nationwide protests triggered by the death of George Floyd by a police officer now on trial in Minneapolis for murder.

Gov. Kate Brown said then she would seek to write June 19 into law as a state holiday. House Bill 2168 was introduced at her request.

Twenty years ago, the Legislature designated June 19 as a day of celebration but did not make it a state holiday.

Although 47 of the 50 states offer some official recognition, June 19 is a paid holiday for state employees in only four states: New York, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia. Whether it becomes a paid holiday for Oregon state employees will hinge on collective bargaining agreements.

The bill would take effect 90 days after the close of the 2021 session, so it would not become a state holiday this year.

Oregon state government has 10 official holidays: New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, the third Monday in January; Presidents Day, the third Monday in February; Memorial Day, the final Monday in May; Independence Day on July 4; Labor Day, the first Monday in September; Veterans Day, Nov. 11; Thanksgiving, the fourth Thursday in November, the Friday after Thanksgiving (for state employees), and Christmas Day.

Although President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862 — it freed Black slaves only in the 11 Confederate states in rebellion against the Union as of Jan. 1, 1863 — a Union general issued the final proclamation of the end of slavery on June 19, 1865, in Galveston, Texas. The 13th Amendment, which permanently abolished slavery, became part of the U.S. Constitution in December 1865.

“While this is an important day for many Black Americans, this is not a separate history. This is our history. This is American history,” said Majority Leader Virginia Smith Warner of Portland, the bill’s floor manager.

“For far too long, the experiences, contributions and stories of Black people and people of color have been excluded from our nation’s legacy and Oregon’s history and minimized in history books. We must not forget — and we must continue to share these histories so that it is not forgotten.”

Republicans, among them GOP Leader Christine Drazan of Canby, Daniel Bonham of The Dalles and Mike Nearman of Dallas, also spoke for the bill.

Rep. Bobby Levy, a Republican from Echo, said she had a personal reason to support the bill. Her daughter-in-law is from Uganda, and Levy said she has endured racial slurs, although Levy’s grandchildren have not.

“This bill is a step in the right direction,” Levy said.

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