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Provo mayor declares Junteenth a city holiday for employees

By Genelle Pugmire - | May 20, 2022

Courtesy Provo City

Provo Mayor Michelle Kaufusi officially started her second term following her inauguration Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022.

It was a different time and a different communication chain when the Emancipation Proclamation was enacted on Jan. 1, 1863.

News of the proclamation spread to the final state on June 19, 1865. Juneteenth was originally celebrated in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1866, marking the first anniversary of freeing of the slaves.

The celebration of Juneteenth has continued for the past 157 years, and spread throughout the country before ultimtely being declared a federal holiday in 2021.

On June 17, 2021, Utah Gov. Spencr Cox declared June 19 as Juneteenth in Utah, but a tweet from the governor’s Twitter account was confusing as employees thought it was a “state” holiday. That designation had to be cleared by the legislature.

In addition to the federal government recognizing Juneteenth as a federal holiday, 49 states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation recognizing it as a holiday or observance. In Texas, New York, Virginia, Washington and Illinois, Juneteenth is an official paid holiday for state employees.

Evan Vucci, Associated Press

President Joe Biden points to Opal Lee after signing the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, in the East Room of the White House, Thursday, June 17, 2021, in Washington. From left are, Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif, Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., Opal Lee, Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., Vice President Kamala Harris, House Majority Whip James Clyburn of S.C., Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, obscured, Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas.

On March 24, Cox signed it into law that Juneteenth would be a state holiday, calling it Freedom Day. Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-Salt Lake City, is the first black woman to serve in the Utah legislature and sponsored the bill.

In keeping with that tradition, Provo Mayor Michelle Kaufusi sent a letter to all city employees informing them that Juneteenth will now be an official city holiday.

“Juneteenth, as it has come to be known, is the oldest nationally-recognized commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States,” Kaufusi said. “On March 24, Governor Spencer Cox signed a law designating Juneteenth as Freedom Day and officially making it a state holiday.”

“Provo City’s slogan is ‘Welcome Home,’ reflecting our inclusive environment to all. Juneteenth offers another opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to supporting diversity and racial equality,” reads Kaufusi’s letter.

While “Juneteenth” is on June 19, that day falls this year on a Sunday so the employee holiday will be celebrated on Monday June 20, giving Provo employees a four-day holiday as they don’t work on Fridays.

“It is my honor to take the lead in establishing Juneteenth as an official holiday for Provo City employees,” Kaufusi wrote.

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