Juneteenth National Independence Day, which celebrates the end of slavery in the United States, became a federal holiday last year. But at the state level, governments vary considerably in whether they commemorate it as an official holiday, a day of observance or something in between.
Juneteenth is the newest federal holiday in the United States, and one that is celebrated differently across the states. We took a look at which states have adopted Juneteenth as an official state holiday, designated it as a day of observance or done something in between.
We decided to focus on states that observe Juneteenth as an official public holiday – meaning that state offices are closed and state workers get a paid day off. Our main sources for this analysis were state administrative, personnel and human-resources websites, most of which post lists of official state holidays. We supplemented those lists with an analysis of news reports about local observances of Juneteenth.
New Mexico’s Legislature added Juneteenth as an official state holiday in 2006, observed on the third Saturday of June; it became a paid holiday for state workers for the first time in 2022. In Illinois, state workers get a paid holiday for Juneteenth only if it falls on a weekday. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey authorized Juneteenth as a holiday for state workers this year and in 2021, but the Legislature there must pass a law for it to become a permanent official state holiday. It is one of at least three states where a governor’s proclamation has designated the state holiday.
Juneteenth is a combination of the words June and nineteenth. It commemorates the day, more than two months after the end of the Civil War – and more than two years after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation – when enslaved Black Americans in Galveston, Texas, were informed of their freedom. It is now one of 11 official federal holidays – or 12 for federal workers in the District of Columbia and surrounding areas during presidential inauguration years – meaning that federal workers get a paid day off and there’s no mail delivery. Most federal offices are closed on federal holidays, along with most banks and the bond markets that trade in U.S. government debt. The stock markets generally remain open, as do most retailers and other businesses, though these vary by federal holiday.
At the state level, at least 24 states and the District of Columbia will legally recognize Juneteenth as a public holiday this year – meaning state government offices are closed and state workers have a paid day off, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of state human resource websites, state legislation and news articles. That number will increase next year: Connecticut will legally recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday beginning in 2023. A few other states are considering legislation to make the day an official holiday.
Most states where Juneteenth is a legal state holiday have added it to their calendars fairly recently. In fact, all but one of them added it as an official holiday in 2020 or later. The exception is Texas, where the holiday originated and where it is also known as Emancipation Day. Juneteenth has been celebrated locally in Texas since the 1860s and became an official state holiday there in 1980.
Public awareness of Juneteenth grew in 2020 amid nationwide protests after the police killings of several Black Americans, including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. President Joe Biden signed the legislation that made Juneteenth a federal holiday in June 2021.
In addition to D.C. and the states where Juneteenth is an official holiday, other states give certain workers the day off but haven’t declared the day a legal holiday. In 2019, for example, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf designated Juneteenth as an “official annual observance” and a paid day off for state employees under his jurisdiction. And in North Carolina, some state workers can choose to take a floating holiday on a day of “cultural, religious or personal significance,” including Juneteenth.
Every state has at some point passed a resolution recognizing Juneteenth at least as a day of observance – even those that do not count Juneteenth among their official public holidays. In fact, with the exception of Texas, all states that currently recognize the day as a public holiday commemorated Juneteenth this way years before it became an official state holiday that gives state workers a paid day off. Florida, Oklahoma and Minnesota were the first states outside Texas to commemorate Juneteenth as a day of observance in the 1990s. New Mexico has recognized Juneteenth as a state holiday since 2006, observed on the third Saturday of June; it became a paid holiday for state workers for the first time in 2022.
South Dakota, North Dakota and Hawaii were the last states to give Juneteenth any formal recognition. The day was not observed in South Dakota until 2020, when the governor proclaimed it a holiday. In Hawaii and North Dakota, Juneteenth has been a day of observance since last year.
Juneteenth is catching on as a holiday in major U.S. cities as well. Cities including New York, Los Angeles and Phoenix have recently declared the day an official paid holiday for city workers. In addition to Juneteenth, the District of Columbia celebrates Emancipation Day on April 16 in honor of the day – almost nine months before the Emancipation Proclamation – when Abraham Lincoln freed the enslaved people living in D.C.