ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York’s governor signed an executive order Wednesday recognizing Juneteenth as a paid holiday for state employees to commemorate the emancipation of slaves in the U.S.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he will propose legislation next year making June 19 a permanent state holiday. New York Assemblywoman Alicia Hyndman, a Democrat, introduced a bill last week to make Junenteeth a public holiday in honor of “black and African-American freedom and achievements.”
“It is a day we should all reflect upon. It is a day that is especially relevant in this moment in history,” Cuomo said.
Protesters nationwide have called for action to address the nation’s legacy of racial oppression and discrimination in the wake of Minneapolis police officers killing 46-year-old George Floyd during a May 25 arrest.
“I want to be a force for change, and I want to help synergize this moment,” Cuomo said. “Whether it’s reform on police department, whether it’s an expanded racial understanding and sensitivity and progress. And if Juneteenth is part of that, and the recognition of what happened and an understanding of what happened, great.”
Cuomo’s announcement also comes as he calls for local police departments across the state to seriously tackle reform and build respect and trust on the local level over the next months. The governor has set an April 2021 deadline for communities to pass concrete reforms or miss out on state aid for police departments.
The governor has called for a national standard on excessive force by police officers, but reiterated Wednesday that he believes local communities must pursue change on issues including staffing and use of force policies.
“You have to start with the foundation and build up,” Cuomo said. “But the foundation is the problem.”
Several states already observe Juneteenth. Texas was the first to make it a state holiday, in 1980. Virginia’s governor proposed making Juneteenth a state holiday there earlier this week.
President Abraham Lincoln first issued the Emancipation Proclamation declaring all slaves free in Confederate territory on Sept. 22, 1862, but the news took time to travel.
June 19, 1865, is the date when word of the proclamation reached African Americans in Texas.
A summary of Assemblywoman Hyndman’s bill says the new public holiday would encourage New Yorkers to respect all cultures and celebrate and learn about black and African American history.
“As a state, it is our duty to recognize and celebrate June Nineteenth, not only by adopting resolutions, but by pausing statewide to acknowledge and reflect on a day that changed the trajectory of the lives of most Blacks and African Americans being held as slaves in U.S.,” reads the bill’s memo.