SALEM, Ore. — The Oregon House of Representatives on Friday passed a bill that would establish Juneteenth, a commemoration of slavery's end in the United States, as an official state holiday.
Juneteenth is the oldest-known event celebrating the end of slavery. On June 19, 1865, Major-General Gordon Granger led his Union soldiers into Galveston, Texas, with the news that the Civil War had ended and that the enslaved were now free. This was two years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation became official on January 1, 1863.
Most states now recognize Juneteenth as either a state or ceremonial holiday, though it is not officially recognized at the federal level.
According to Oregon House Democrats, the holiday was first introduced in Oregon during 1945, when Clara Peoples led a celebration during her work break at the Vanport shipyards.
"We remember the legacy of Clara Peoples, ‘Mother of Juneteenth,’ and the annual celebrations that kept this tradition alive long before this holiday was officially recognized,” said Rep. Janelle Bynum (D- Clackamas), Chair of the BIPOC Caucus.
In 2001, the Oregon legislature passed a joint resolution observing Juneteenth each year, but it did not become an official state holiday. Governor Kate Brown issued a proclamation in 2020 to mark the day, announcing plans to make it a state holiday.
“By making Juneteenth an official state holiday, we can both confront and acknowledge our shameful history of racial discrimination and white supremacist violence, while celebrating and recognizing the contributions Black Americans have made and continue to make in the face of systemic inequities,” said House Majority Leader Barbara Smith Warner, chief sponsor of the bill. “Juneteenth can help Oregon look to a future of racial equity and justice.”
Having passed the House with bipartisan support, the bill now moves on to the Oregon Senate.