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St. Louis County Designates Juneteenth As An Official Holiday

Marchers walk down Tucker Avenue during a Juneteenth celebration in St. Louis on Friday, June 19, 2020.
Bill Greenblatt | UPI
St. Louis County officials have announced that Juneteenth will be an official county holiday. June 19 commemorates the end of slavery in the United States.

St. Louis County officials have announced that Juneteenth will be an official county holiday.

The county’s Civil Service Commission voted Thursday to add June 19 to the county’s holiday calendar. It commemorates the end of slavery in the United States.

“It’s important that we all take the opportunity to commemorate the historic gravity of Juneteenth,” St. Louis County Executive Sam Page said in a statement. “It’s a day to appreciate the changes that we have seen since the 19th century while also reflecting upon how we can each play a role in the changes that are yet to come.”

County officials closed offices last year to commemorate the holiday.

St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson signed a proclamation last year designating June 19 as “Juneteenth Day” in the city. A spokesperson from the mayor said the date will be a paid holiday this year.

The holiday’s roots trace back to Texas, where two years after the emancipation proclamation, former slaves celebrated on June 19, 1865. The date became a regional holiday, then spread to other parts of the country. The holiday has become more prominent in recent years. Thousands of people across the St. Louis region gathered at a march in downtown St. Louis last year to commemorate Juneteenth.

Historians say they hope St. Louisans use the holiday to reflect on the atrocities of slavery and focus on the continuing fight for justice for African Americans across the country.

“I would hope that people would look at it now, think about slavery, but also think about Black people renewing their hope and wanting to have America live up to its promises and finally that Black people would get the full citizenship that they should have gotten on the day that they learned that they were free,” said Gerald Early, professor of African and African American Studies at Washington University.

Everyone should use Juneteenth to understand the nation’s legacy of slavery and oppression, Early said.

“We still suffer from inadequate health care, inadequate education,” he said. “Black people's economic worth, their financial worth, we’re still at the bottom, and so we have suffered from the vestiges of slavery. So having this once again is a good way to remind people not only of the horrors of the past of slavery, but it’s still affecting black people today.”

Follow Chad on Twitter @iamcdavis

Chad is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.