New Jersey just added a state holiday to its calendar: Juneteenth Day.
Gov. Phil Murphy on Thursday signed a law making the Garden State the latest to establish an official state holiday to honor Juneteenth, the day commemorating the emancipation of all slaves in America.
The Democratic governor finalized the move during a live Instagram ceremony with New Jersey-bred R&B star SZA.
Here’s what you need to know:
WHAT IS JUNETEENTH?
It’s a day to remember June 19, 1865 — when Union soldiers brought news of the Emancipation Proclamation to enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, and declared that all people held in slavery in the U.S. must be freed. They were the last slaves to learn of their freedom because Texas was a remote state.
The event happened more than a month after the end of the Civil War and more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
Juneteenth has been celebrated for more than a century in parts of the U.S. and has grown with time. But the date gained added attention this year after the police-involved death of George Floyd in Minnesota that sparked nationwide Black Lives Matter protests.
WHEN WILL IT BE CELEBRATED IN N.J.?
Under the new law, Juneteenth Day in New Jersey will be the third Friday in June.
That means the state’s first Juneteenth Day will be June 18, 2021.
WHO WILL HAVE OFF?
The law says all state government employees will get the day off in honor, though some essential employees will work on overtime. It will apply only to state employees, Murphy’s office said.
It would be up to local governments and private businesses whether to give their employees off. That wouldn’t be automatic.
WHAT WILL BE OPENED AND CLOSED?
The setup will be similar to other state holidays. Many state government offices will likely be closed, though some essential services — such as the State Police — will remain open.
U.S. Post Offices will likely stay open because Juneteenth is not a federal holiday.
It would be up to local government offices and private businesses whether to close or remain open. A number of businesses, including Target, Twitter, and Uber, made Juneteenth company holidays this year.
WHAT OTHER STATE HOLIDAYS ARE THERE IN N.J.?
New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King’s Birthday, Presidents Day, Good Friday, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, any general Election Day.
HOW MUCH WILL THIS COST?
The holiday will cost state taxpayers more than $3 million a year through increased overtime costs, according to a fiscal analysis of the bill.
IS THIS A FEDERAL HOLIDAY?
No. But advocates have been pushing to make it one.
A group of U.S. senators — including Democrat Cory Booker of New Jersey — in June introduced legislation to establish a national Juneteenth Day.
WHAT OTHER STATES HAVE JUNETEENTH DAYS?
All but three states — Hawaii, North Dakota, and South Dakota — commemorate Juneteenth in some way. But New Jersey is only the sixth state to make it an official state holiday, with state government employees having a paid day off in honor.
Texas was the first state to do so, in 1980. Govs. Andrew Cuomo of New York and Ralph Northam of Virginia recognized Juneteenth this year as a paid holiday for state government employees and said they would propose legislation marking the day as a formal state holiday. Gov. Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania also gave state employees off this year.
HOW DID THIS BECOME LAW?
Dozens of state lawmakers — from both major parties — sponsored a bill (S19) at the end of June to make this a holiday. It passed quickly through the state Legislature, with the state Senate passing it 35-3 and the state Assembly 62-0, with 12 abstentions, in July.
“We have a lot to learn from our history and unfortunately the delay in ending slavery and the lasting impact the institution has on our country is not taught enough,” said state Sen. Sandra Cunningham, D-Hudson, a main sponsor, who is Black. “We want everyone to remember that Juneteenth is part of the history of all Americans.”
Three Assembly sponsors released a joint statement saying “we’re at another set of crossroads in this country’s history — just as we were in 1863 — where we can decide to move humanity forward by once again acknowledging the wrongs committed against African Americans and taking bold action to correct them.”
“Juneteenth was a defining moment in American History, claiming the beginning of African American independence in this country,” said Jamel Holley, D-Union; Benjie Wimberly, D-Passaic; and Verlina Reynolds Jackson, D-Mercer — all of whom are Black. “It is time for the commemoration of a pivotal moment in history to become an official state holiday, underscoring its importance to our communities and giving time for reflection on how far we have come and have to go to achieve equality and justice for all.”
Murphy officially signed the bill into law Thursday.
“We are still in the first year in the fifth century since slavery came to our shores, the stain of racism lives on,” Murphy, who is white, said. “This is an example of an action we can take. I think words matter, but we know that actions matter even more.”
SZA, who is Black and grew up in Maplewood, said the move is important to her because she’s a “direct descendant of slavery.”
“That is my family,” the singer said. “It is not even a past stain. “It is a current reality that we are living.”
NJ Advance Media staff writer Samantha Marcus contributed to this report.
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Brent Johnson may be reached at [email protected].