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On Thursday, Gov. Mike Dunleavy signed a bill to make Juneteenth a legal holiday in the state. 

“Juneteenth is a day to celebrate a milestone in our country’s history as it has become a more perfect union,” said Dunleavy in a written statement on Facebook. 

Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson sponsored the legislation, Senate Bill 22.

“Like the governor said, it’s not just a holiday for Black Americans, it’s a holiday for all Americans,” said Gray-Jackson, a Black state senator and Democrat representing Anchorage’s Midtown. She has been working on the bill since 2021. 

Juneteenth, which combines the words “June” and “nineteenth,” honors the freedom of enslaved people in the United States. The holiday commemorates June 19, 1865, when enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, were informed of their freedom nearly two years after the Emancipation Proclamation. The holiday is also known as “Emancipation Day” or “Freedom Day.” 

Gray-Jackson pushed for Juneteenth to be recognized in the same way that other holidays are, such as the Fourth of July. 

“History finally made it to the finish line,” said Gray-Jackson. 

The signing took place at the Robert B. Atwood Building in Anchorage, and was followed by a celebration at the Anchorage Legislative Information Office Building. 

Senate Bill 22 was broadly supported by Alaska legislators: last year, the Senate passed the bill 16-4. In May, the House passed the bill 37-3. 

In 2021, Juneteenth became a federal holiday, officially named Juneteenth National Independence Day. Last year, the Anchorage Assembly unanimously voted to make Juneteenth a municipal holiday. Over half of states recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday—now, Alaska is one of them. 

Since 2001, state law has mandated that the governor make a proclamation each Juneteenth. Under new law, the holiday will be officially observed beginning June 19, 2025. 

“I make really great macaroni and cheese. I think I’m going to make a big, giant pan of macaroni and cheese and bring it to the [Legislative Information] office for everybody in the building to enjoy,” said Gray-Jackson about her plans for celebration.

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