HAMPTON—Governor Ralph Northam today commemorated Juneteenth during an event at Fort Monroe National Monument in Hampton. This year will be the second statewide observance of Juneteenth and the first as a permanent state holiday in the Commonwealth.
Juneteenth marks the anniversary of the day in 1865 when Major General Gordon Granger led Union soldiers into Galveston, Texas—the last of the former Confederate states to abolish slavery—bringing news that the Civil War had ended and the Emancipation Proclamation had been signed two and a half years earlier, and all enslaved people were free.
“Our recognition of Juneteenth signifies that we understand its importance to all Americans—it was on this day in 1865 that our nation took one step closer toward its promise of liberty and justice for all,” said Governor Northam. “While it did not end racism, oppression, or violence, it is an important symbol of hope—and a reminder of the constant struggle for equality. As we continue the work of telling the full and accurate story of our shared history, we must also acknowledge historical moments like this, even as they challenge us to reckon with our past and our present.”
Governor Northam also issued a proclamation for Juneteenth and shared a new video message. He first declared Juneteenth a state holiday in the Commonwealth in June 2020 and it was codified in Virginia law earlier this year. Virginia had long marked Juneteenth by issuing a proclamation or executive order, but it had never previously been considered a state holiday. Yesterday, President Biden signed the “Juneteenth National Independence Day Act,” which designates Juneteenth National Independence Day as a legal public holiday, the first new national holiday to be approved since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was established in 1983.
“When we elevate Juneteenth as a legal holiday, we invite people to think about its significance,” said Chief Diversity Officer Dr. Janice Underwood. “All Virginians are encouraged to learn about and reflect on the historical events that made Juneteenth necessary, because this collective understanding will make us stronger and more united.”
Governor Northam also announced that the Commonwealth is partnering with the Virginia Museum of History and Culture to distribute a new book created by the museum around its 2019 exhibit titled, Determined: The 400-Year Struggle for Black Equality. The exhibit drew connections from 1619—when a ship carrying the first enslaved African people landed in Virginia at Old Point Comfort, the present site of Fort Monroe—across the four centuries of the fight for Black equality that followed.
The book, based on the exhibit of the same name, expands on its narrative, providing a concise and accessible survey of Black history in Virginia, and putting it in context to help readers understand how the struggle for freedom has shaped American history and democratic ideals. The Commonwealth will work with the Museum to provide a copy of Determined to every high school, middle school, and library in Virginia.
“The Virginia Museum of History and Culture is proud to partner with the Commonwealth to make this important history more available and accessible in schools and libraries,” said Jamie Bosket, President and CEO of the Virginia Museum of History and Culture. “Determined was one of our most successful and highly-visited exhibits, and we created this book to ensure the important story it told, and the vast work from the historians and curators involved, would be lasting. After more than four years of research, we are honored to put forward this new resource for all those seeking to learn more about our shared past.”
Virginians are encouraged to participate in Juneteenth events hosted by the Northam Administration and community organizations taking place online and throughout the Commonwealth. A list of some of these events can be found here.
“We are making great strides in promoting a more truthful and comprehensive Virginia history through the work of Governor Northam’s historic justice initiative, the Department of Historic Resources, and across state government,” said Secretary of Natural Resources Matthew J Strickler. “Juneteenth is not only about reflecting on our past, but it is also an opportunity to renew our commitment toward building a more equitable and just future.”
Earlier this year, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Fort Monroe as a Site of Memory Associated with the UNESCO Slave Route project. Fort Monroe shares this distinction with more than 50 other sites and entities linked to the history of the transatlantic slave trade.
Photos from today’s event at Fort Monroe can be found below and additional images are available here.
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