Utah Gov. Spencer Cox on Thursday signed a law to make Juneteenth National Freedom Day a state holiday, a day commemorating the end of slavery in the U.S.
Also known as June Nineteenth, the holiday marks the day in 1865 when Union troops arrived in Texas more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation to tell remaining enslaved African Americans that the Civil War had ended and that they were free. The holiday has been celebrated by Black Americans since the late-19th century.
The law was sponsored by state Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-Salt Lake City, who was the first African American woman to serve in the Utah Legislature. The bill garnered bipartisan support, as well as backing from the Ogden NAACP branch.
While celebrated on June 19, under the law, if the holiday falls on a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday or Friday it will be observed on the preceding Monday. If the holiday falls on a weekend, it will be observed the following Monday, giving people a three-day weekend.
In the aftermath of nationwide protests sparked by the death of George Floyd, a Black Minnesota man who was killed by a white police officer in 2020, more states and businesses have made an effort to officially recognize the holiday. President Joe Biden last year signed a law to make Juneteenth a federal holiday.
In 1984, the U.S. government established Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but Utah instead named the holiday “Human Rights Day.” The state didn’t officially recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day until 2000, making it one of the last states in the nation to name the holiday after the Black civil rights leader.
Six years ago, Utah became the 44th state in the U.S. to observe “Juneteenth Freedom Day,” as a result of a bill also sponsored by Hollins.
Black Americans in Utah account for about 1.5% of the state population, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.