Ron Brown is excited that Gov. Tom Wolf’s pen is expected to work its magic on June 19, making Juneteenth an official state holiday.
“That would be perfect,” said Brown, who has been coordinating a Juneteenth celebration in the Germantown neighborhood for the last 20 years. “Things are moving quickly.”
House Bill 619 would designate June 19 in Pennsylvania as Juneteenth National Freedom Day. Observed by 45 other states and widely celebrated across Pennsylvania, Juneteenth marks the day in 1865 when enslaved people in Galveston, Texas — the last Black slaves in the U.S. — learned they were finally freed after the Civil War ended on April 9, 1865.
The occasion occurred more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in which he freed the slaves in the “rebellious states” and technically ended 244 years of slavery in America.
State Rep. Susan Helm (R-104), the measure’s primary sponsor, said Thursday that she met with Wolf, and he plans to sign the bill on June 19.
“I’m happy that Governor Wolf is going to accommodate us and sign it,” she said. “It’s the right thing to do and I’m happy he’ll do it on the actual holiday.”
Helm said that four previous efforts were passed by the House but never made it through the Senate until Wednesday.
“It’s good to get caught up,” Helm said. “Juneteenth is the oldest commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States that is observed nationally. It’s a time set aside to celebrate African-American freedom by emphasizing education and achievement.”
While the bill would commemorate the important date in U.S. history, it would not call for employers to treat June 19 as a legal or official holiday.
The National Juneteenth Observance Foundation, of which Brown is a board member, is campaigning to make the occasion a national holiday.
“This is a step in the right direction,” Brown said. “This needs to be a national holiday. For African Americans, Juneteenth historically is on the same level as Independence Day. It’s our July 4.”