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Gov. Wolf honors Juneteenth; Pa. workers under governor’s jurisdiction get a special holiday

PennLive.com logo PennLive.com 6/18/2020 By Ron Southwick, pennlive.com
Black Lives Matter rally and march in Harrisburg © June 17, 2020 Sean Simmers | ssimmers@pennlive.com/pennlive.com/TNS Black Lives Matter rally and march in Harrisburg

Friday marks the first anniversary of Pennsylvania declaring June 19 as Juneteenth National Freedom Day.

For the first time, Gov. Tom Wolf is also marking it as a special holiday closure for the employees under the governor’s jurisdiction. Wolf is urging Pennsylvanians to reflect on the significance of the holiday, which commemorates the emancipation of black slaves.

“This Juneteenth, people across Pennsylvania and the world will celebrate this important day of independence,” Wolf said in a statement. “This is a moment to honor African American history and reflect on how each of us can promote equality, liberty and justice for all people.”

The Juneteenth holiday has taken on deeper resonance this year. Protests across the country have emerged demanding racial equality and justice in the wake of the death of George Floyd. Floyd, who was black, died in police custody after a police officer held his knee on the man’s neck for nearly nine minutes. The officer has been charged with murder.

Marches have occurred all across Pennsylvania, in cities and small towns. Another protest took place in Harrisburg Wednesday night, one of several in the capital city in recent weeks.

“In recent weeks, people around the nation have joined together to demand an end to systemic racism and oppression of African Americans,” Wolf said in the statement. “Freedom for all is not fully realized until every person is truly free. This Juneteenth we have an opportunity to unite against injustice and create lasting change that will make Pennsylvania and our nation a better place for everyone.”

a group of people walking down the street: Black Lives Matter rally and march in Harrisburg © June 17, 2020 Sean Simmers | ssimmers@pennlive.com/pennlive.com/TNS Black Lives Matter rally and march in Harrisburg

The city of Philadelphia is observing Juneteenth as a holiday; all city offices and facilities will be closed to the public. Montgomery County is also closing its offices for Juneteenth.

State Rep. Sue Helm, a Dauphin County Republican, sponsored the legislation that established Juneteenth as a state holiday. It took Helm years to get the measure through the General Assembly.

Even though President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, it would be another two years before some slaves learned of their freedom.

On June 19, 1865, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger and his Union troops arrived at Galveston, Texas with news that the Civil War had ended and that slaves were now free.

Under the state law, employers aren’t compelled to treat it as an official holiday. Nonetheless, some businesses, including banks, will be closed Friday in observance of Juneteenth.

Events honoring Juneteenth are planned across central Pennsylvania.

More from PennLive

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©2020 The Patriot-News (Harrisburg, Pa.)

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