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Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear declares Juneteenth a state holiday

Governor Andy Beshear stands in a suit behinds a poidum.
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At least 28 other states and Washington, D.C., have recognized Juneteenth as a public holiday.

Kentucky has joined more than half the country in declaring June 19 as Juneteenth National Freedom Day.

Gov. Andy Beshear signed an order Thursday designating Juneteenth as an executive branch holiday in recognition of the horrors of slavery and the many contributions of Black Americans.

The recently reelected Democratic governor signed the executive order as well as another outlawing discrimination based on hairstyles after Kentucky’s Republican-controlled Legislature failed to take action on the measures earlier this year.

“After years of inaction, I’ve decided I can no longer wait for others to do what is right,” Beshear said before signing the order alongside Black lawmakers.

Juneteenth celebrates the day in 1865 that Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, to bring news that the Civil War had ended and that all enslaved Black Americans were free and entitled to equal rights.

Black Americans have long celebrated June 19 as the emancipation date for enslaved people, but it wasn’t until 2021 that President Joe Biden signed legislation establishing Juneteenth as a federal holiday.

The order closes all executive branch offices on the holiday beginning this year. Beshear said it’s an important date in the country’s history that acknowledges the past and the nation’s “greatest injustice.”

“This is an important day in our history as Americans,” he said. “A day when we honor the strength and courage of African Americans and the contributions they have made and continue to make for our country.”

Beshear also contributed to the removal of a statue of Jefferson Davis from the Kentucky State Capitol amid racial justice protests in 2020.

Senate Minority Leader Gerald Neal of Louisville introduced legislation this year to make Juneteenth a state holiday, but it never received a hearing in the state’s Republican supermajority Legislature. Neal stood alongside Beshear at the order’s signing.

At least 28 other states and Washington, D.C., have recognized Juneteenth as a public holiday, according to Pew Research Center.

State government and politics reporting is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Ryan Van Velzer is the Kentucky Public Radio Managing Editor. Email Ryan at rvanvelzer@lpm.org.
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