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Rhode Island to Celebrate Juneteenth as State Holiday for the First Time

Rhode Island to Celebrate Juneteenth as State Holiday for the First Time

Rhode Island will officially celebrate Juneteenth as a state holiday beginning in 2024. Governor Dan McKee signed a bill in 2023 establishing Juneteenth National Freedom Day as an official state holiday, recognizing the importance of this day to the Black community in Rhode Island.

“Today, Rhode Island makes a crucial and official recognition of the horrors and injustices of slavery,” McKee stated in a press release. “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.”

Rhode Island will join the federal government in recognizing Juneteenth under legislation sponsored by Representatives Anastasia Williams and Brian Newberry, and approved by the General Assembly.

Helen Baskerville-Dukes, President and Executive Director of Rhode Island’s Juneteenth Committee, emphasized the historical significance of the holiday. She noted the two-and-a-half-year gap between the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, and the news reaching the enslaved people in Texas on June 19, 1865.

“It’s important because Black history is American history,” Baskerville-Dukes said. “Because of the Emancipation and the commemoration around the African slaves being freed, it is necessary that we remember how far America has come.”

Baskerville-Dukes highlighted the journey of making Juneteenth a recognized holiday in Rhode Island, which began in 2019 with small celebrations that have since grown into larger events, including a festival, an awards gala celebrating grassroots businesspeople and organizers, and a youth day focusing on literacy.

The significance of Juneteenth has been eloquently captured by historians and writers. Annette Gordon-Reed, in her book “On Juneteenth,” traced the spread of Juneteenth celebrations from Texas to other parts of the country.

Jelani Cobb described Juneteenth as a pivotal moment in American history, noting how the delayed announcement of emancipation in Texas highlighted the control of information that slavery relied upon.

Juneteenth, celebrated annually on June 19th, marks the date when the last enslaved persons in Texas were informed of their freedom in 1865. Since becoming a national holiday in 2021, Juneteenth has seen wider recognition and celebration across the United States.

With Rhode Island joining in, the state continues to acknowledge and honor the resilience and contributions of its Black community.


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