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Alaska Governor Considers Adding Juneteenth as Legal Holiday

by CiCi
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As Alaska commemorates Juneteenth this week, Governor Mike Dunleavy faces a pivotal decision on whether to sign Senate Bill 22 into law, officially designating Juneteenth as a legal holiday within the state starting from 2025.

Juneteenth, derived from “June” and “nineteenth,” marks the emancipation of enslaved individuals in the United States. Senator Elvi Gray-Jackson, a Democrat representing Anchorage’s Midtown and the bill’s sponsor, emphasized the significance of Juneteenth as a celebration akin to Independence Day, highlighting its pivotal role in acknowledging the true freedom of former slaves.

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The holiday memorializes June 19, 1865, when the last enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, learned of their liberation, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation. President Joe Biden’s 2021 enactment of Juneteenth as a federal holiday spurred Gray-Jackson’s renewed efforts at the state level. Despite initial setbacks, her persistence culminated in the bill’s passage by the Senate in 2023 and subsequent approval by the House in May 2024.

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Advocates assert that recognizing Juneteenth as a paid holiday for state workers is a step towards honoring its historical and cultural significance. Currently observed in more than half of U.S. states and established as a paid municipal holiday in Anchorage since last year, Juneteenth represents a moment for reflection, education, and celebration, according to Celeste Hodge Growden, president and CEO of the Alaska Black Caucus.

Opponents of the bill, including Senator David Wilson, raised concerns over the economic implications of adding another paid holiday. Wilson, one of four senators who voted against the bill, argued for prioritizing resources toward addressing disparities in healthcare, education, and criminal justice affecting African-American communities.

For Growden, such economic arguments diminish the symbolic value of Juneteenth, likening it to the ongoing pursuit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision of a Beloved Community—a society of reconciliation and equity.

Governor Dunleavy, who made no mention of Senate Bill 22 in his recent Juneteenth proclamation, now faces a choice: signing the bill into law, vetoing it, or allowing it to pass into law without his signature. Gray-Jackson has extended an invitation to Dunleavy to sign the bill at the Martin Luther King Jr. Living Memorial, a gesture echoing his signing of the Black History Month bill in 2019.

The decision on Senate Bill 22 not only underscores Alaska’s stance on acknowledging Juneteenth but also reflects broader debates on the cultural, historical, and economic impacts of recognizing this significant date in American history.

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