SALEM, Ore. — The Oregon Senate on Tuesday unanimously passed a bill that would make Juneteenth an official state holiday beginning in 2022. Juneteenth is the oldest-known event commemorating the end of slavery in the U.S.
House Bill 2168 previously passed in the Oregon House with bipartisan support, but it will need to go back to the chamber for a concurrence vote.
Though President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation became official on January 1 of 1863, the institution of slavery did not see its practical end until two years later, when Union soldiers entered Galveston, Texas — bringing news that the Civil War was over, accompanied by orders that the enslaved in Texas were to be set free. This event, which occurred on June 19 of 1865, has been called Juneteenth, Emancipation Day, Jubilee Day or Freedom Day.
“The Emancipation Proclamation news arrived in waves to the enslaved Black women and men of my family,” said Senator Lew Frederick, who carried House Bill 2168. “Family stories say, ‘joy was the first emotion, and next skepticism.’ However, hope stood at the center of a possible future for my family and so many families. That hope continues to this day. So does the skepticism. The two can dance together, and in that dance, we can progress, and we can amplify hope.”
In Oregon, a woman named Clara Peoples is credited with introducing the celebration of Juneteenth during 1945.
“Miss Clara Peoples is foundational to Oregon, her family is the reason we have unofficially observed this holiday and the Peoples have remained central in framing the expectation of a more equitable tomorrow,” said Senator Frederick.
Coinciding with news of the bill's passage in the Senate, state officials announced Tuesday that there will be a celebration of Juneteenth in Medford that Saturday at Pear Blossom Park from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The event promises both educational and fun activities for adults and children.
The Medford event is set to include a bouncy house, readings, entertainment with live DJ Blahq Sage, music from the Bishop Mayfield Band and Friends and African drummers Fore’ Forte with Master Drummer Diby and Daouda Hawk, as well as vendors, food trucks, community organizations, and other resources. Black-owned businesses will be featured.
The Oregon Department of Human Services says that the June 19 event is brought by its Black Employee Support Team (B.E.S.T.), in partnership with the Black Alliance for Social Empowerment, (BASE), a volunteer nonprofit community organization.
"This year’s Southern Oregon Juneteenth offers an opportunity for communities to come together and further enrich their knowledge, experience and understanding of the journey toward equity while providing support to Black-owned businesses and an enthusiastic celebration of freedom," ODHS said in a statement.
Most states now recognize Juneteenth as either a state or ceremonial holiday, though it is not officially recognized at the federal level. 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.
“With House Bill 2168, we can learn from another time. We can change the future now, in real time. We can work towards equality – even without a declaration or official holiday. We must. Celebrating Juneteenth will help each of us remember all that we can and must do to ensure a more just future,” concluded Senator Frederick.