REGION — Maine will recognize June 19, known as ‘Juneteenth’ as a paid state holiday. Governor Janet Mills signed the bill designating June 19 a state holiday into law on June 10.

Though it’s been signed into law ahead of this year’s Juneteenth, the law won’t go into effect until 90 days after the end of this legislative session. Thus, 2022 will be the first year workers are offered paid time off for the holiday.

Juneteenth marks the day enslaved people in Galveston, Texas were told about the end of slavery on June 19, 1865, two-and-a-half years after former President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Emancipation Proclamation address in January 1863. The first Juneteenth celebration was held the following year and it has since become an annual celebration of liberation and racial equality for black people and activists alike in America.

Though it was previously a lesser known holiday, attention has increasingly been drawn to Juneteenth, especially during the 155th anniversary in 2020 amid the Black Lives Matter protests. Some look to Juneteenth as America’s true Independence Day.

In a statement acquired by this publication, Gov. Mills commended 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.

“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,” Gov. Mills said. “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.”

Texas became the first state to declare Juneteenth a state holiday in 1980 and in the following years, 48 states have passed legislation recognizing Juneteenth as some form of a holiday or observance, according to Congressional Research Service.

Maine previously recognized “Juneteenth Independence Day” on the third Saturday in June under an annual proclamation. Under the 2011 legislation, the governor was to “annually issue a proclamation…to commemorate the day freedom was proclaimed to all slaves in the South by Union General Gordon Granger in 1865, 2 1/2 years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed.” Unlike the proclamation, the new law will offer workers in Maine paid time off.

The United States Senate also passed a bill declaring Juneteenth a federal holiday. It now heads to the House of Representatives for approval.

The most-recent bill in Maine was presented by Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross of Portland and cosponsored by Rep. Richard Evans of Piscataquis County.

According to the Press Herald, Rep. Talbot Ross testified before a legislative committee that Juneteenth “does not celebrate one day in just one place, but instead it recognizes the harsh experiences of all those who were enslaved. The mothers, fathers, children and siblings who toiled in Maine’s soil and built Maine’s economy without enjoying their own freedom.

“This is a part of history for all our communities and it is time that we recognize it completely. I believe a paid state holiday elevates the visibility of the holiday and therefore the reason for its existence,” she said.

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