Santa Clara County is the first county in California to make Juneteenth a paid county holiday. On Sept. 22, the County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to designate June 19, also known as Juneteenth, the county’s 13th paid holiday for employees.
“No one can deny the importance of this day to our collective histories and how critical it is for us to not only recognize it but also celebrate it in a tangible manner. I’m thrilled that we are able to respond to our community’s ask in this way,” said District 4 Supervisor Susan Ellenberg.
On June 19, 1865, enslaved men and women in Texas found out they were free. The celebration came two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. It was called Juneteenth.
Supervisor Dave Cortese suggested making Juneteenth a county holiday after thousands of people took to the streets this past June 19 in San Jose and other parts of the Bay Area. The marches followed weeks of local and national protests over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
During the Sept. 22 Board of Supervisors meeting, community members voiced their support of the plan.
“Juneteenth is a vital step towards equity and representation in our county. It deserves its own celebration,” said Ariadna Luna, a Community Worker at the African American Community Services Agency. “The community has made it clear about the importance and we’ll continue to make it clear of having its own celebrated day as well as having it a paid holiday.”
“Juneteenth is a really significant holiday for the county to observe. We know there’s still discrimination and racism and certainly Juneteenth is something that we should really consider going forward,” said Richard Konda, Executive Director of the Asian Law Alliance.
“Juneteenth deserves its own celebration,” said Sabrina Mone, the Office Manager at the African American Community Services Agency. “I also want to acknowledge that while slavery has ended, we still see economic inequality, oppression and injustice in our nation. Holidays like Juneteenth bring us one step closer to ending that.”
Community members asked the county to not dilute the meaning of Juneteenth by making the day a floating holiday or replacing a current county holiday with Juneteenth. In the end, the Board of Supervisors agreed, designating Juneteenth as a separate holiday to be observed on June 19 annually.
The county has set aside $2.3 million dollars to help cover the cost of the paid holiday. Some of the money will also be used to help provide education and public awareness about the meaning and importance of June 19.
While Juneteenth is celebrated in a majority of U.S. states, it is not a national holiday. There were moves earlier this year in Congress to make it a federal holiday.