With governor’s signature, Juneteenth officially recognized as state holiday in Alaska

With governor’s signature, Juneteenth officially recognized as state holiday in Alaska

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) – Alaska now recognizes Juneteeth as an official and paid state worker holiday, following the signing of related legislation by Gov. Mike Dunleavy on Thursday.

Dunleavy, R-Alaska, signed Senate Bill 22 into law Thursday, thus establishing Juneteenth as a state holiday. The state now joins localities, such as Anchorage; the federal government; and at least 28 other states, as well as the District of Columbia, in recognizing Juneteenth as a holiday.

The holiday, celebrated by many throughout the month of June, celebrates and honors the June 19, 1865, arrival of Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger in Galveston, Texas, and the subsequent announcements that the Civil War had ended and so had slavery in the United States – as many continued to enslave African Americans for more than two years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Juneteenth, also known as Black Independence Day, Emancipation Day, Freedom Day and Juneteenth National Independence Day, became a federal holiday on June 17, 2021, and a municipal holiday in Anchorage on Feb. 21, 2023.

“It was historical,” said Celeste Hodge Growden, president and CEO of the Alaska Black Caucus. “It is a moment in time that we will never see again, and I’m really excited that I was able to be here to witness the governor signing this legislation, again, historical, and, you know, the fact that he shared some words, that is memorable about this being America’s history, you know, sharing that it’s just about one people, but about all of us as Americans.”

Rep. Stanley Wright, R-Anchorage and a sponsor of the bill, used the word “monumental” when talking about it being signed into state law.

“I’m really excited to be a part of it,” Rep. Wright said. “It’s really important to me just simply because, you know, it validates the people. It lets folks know that, you know, we all have worked together, and we’ve done something that we have history, and now it’s time to recognize the history.”

Some who were in opposition to the legislation cited costs to the taxpayers, as state workers are to be paid on the holiday. In its third reading and final passage in the Senate, Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Wasilla; Sen. Robert Myers, R-Fairbanks; Sen. Mike Shower, R-Wasilla; and Sen. David Wilson, R-Wasilla, voted against the bill. In its final passage, Rep. Ben Carpenter, R-Kenai; Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla; and Rep. Sarah Vance, R-Homer, voted against the bill before the governor’s signature.

Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson, a sponsor of the bill, said in an interview on June 19 that she knew it would have a harder time passing in the House, where members were concerned about an estimated price tag of more than $950,000 to make Juneteenth an annual, paid holiday for all state employees. She was seen getting emotional during that interview when asked about a lawmaker changing their mind to approve SB 22 in its final form.

“It took a lot of work to get to that point, and it did,” Gray-Jackson said Thursday. “No matter what the amount of money was, when I met with legislators on the House side, and they told me what their thoughts were, I said, you know, what, ‘you cannot put a price on celebrating freedom,’ and evidently, it resonated.”

Juneteenth will be officially observed as a state holiday in Alaska on June 19, 2025.

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