Today, the Rhode Island Senate is expected to give final passage to legislation making June 19 a state holiday known as “Juneteenth National Freedom Day.”
Juneteenth is already a federal holiday, and Rhode Island is now poised to become the 29th state to make it a state holiday.
Representative Brianna E. Henries, an East Providence Democrat, introduced the House version of the bill, delivering an impassioned speech and explaining that Juneteenth commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans in the United States.
”On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, announcing the end of slavery and ensuring the chains of bondage were broken for all,” she said. “This day holds profound significance for Black Americans, representing not only the liberation of our ancestors, but also the resilience and the strength of our community.”
Henries, who is of African American, Native American, and Cape Verdean ancestry, said, “As a young Black woman, I stand before you as a living embodiment of my ancestor’s wildest dreams. And it is with immense honor that I lend my voice to this important cause.”
She gave thanks for those who came before her, saying, “Their endurance in the face of an unimaginable adversity, their relentless fight for justice and equality, have enabled me to stand here as an elected representative in this esteemed chamber.”
Henries said recognizing Juneteenth as a state holiday would acknowledge “the painful legacy of slavery” while also “celebrating the progress we have made as a nation.” And, she said, “It would be an opportunity to educate and enlighten all Rhode Islanders about this significant chapter in American history, fostering a deeper understanding and appreciation of the ongoing journey towards true equality.”
The House passed the bill by a vote of 67-0.
Henries concluded by saying, “To younger Brianna: It’s OK that you didn’t pass history – you ended up creating it instead.”
Senator Tiara Mack, a Providence Democrat, introduced a similar bill that passed the Senate on May 25 by a vote of 37-0.
But that bill would take effect immediately, while Henries’ bill wouldn’t take effect until Jan. 1, 2024. So today, the Senate is scheduled to vote on both Henries’ bill and an amended version of Mack’s bill.
Henries invited people to go to the JuneteenthRI.com website and to take part in the Juneteenth events scheduled for the next few days, including a Juneteenth Festival at Roger Williams Park on Sunday.
This story first appeared in Rhode Map, our free newsletter about Rhode Island that also contains information about local events, links to interesting stories, and more. If you’d like to receive it via e-mail Monday through Friday, you can sign up here.