Georgia State Employees May Get Juneteenth Off After Governor Brian Kemp Shows Support

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp showed his support for legislation that would make Juneteenth a mandatory holiday for state employees.

On Monday, state Representative Lauren McDonald III introduced a bill that would require the state to observe all federal holidays, which, as of June of this year, includes Juneteenth. State lawmakers will most likely begin to consider it in January.

Juneteenth is short for June 19, 1865, the date federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to make sure enslaved people were freed, according to The History Channel. The troops came more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation. The date honors the official end of slavery in the U.S.

President Joe Biden made Juneteenth a federal holiday in June. Katie Byrd, a spokesperson for Kemp, said the legislation is "keeping with the state's traditional protocol" to observe all federally recognized holidays, just as they did in 1984 when Martin Luther King Jr. Day was officially added.

While Kemp signed a proclamation in June recognizing Juneteenth, that did not make it a state-recognized holiday. McDonald told the Associated Press Kemp asked him to introduce the bill.

State Representative Miriam Paris previously pushed for bills three times to make Juneteenth a state holiday, but with no luck.

"Juneteenth is a day for all Americans," Paris said. "The end of slavery is something that everyone should be happy and jubilant over."

Brian Kemp, Georgia
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp's office said on December 21, 2021, that he will support a proposed law to make Juneteenth a 13th paid holiday for Georgia state workers, commemorating the end of slavery. Above, Kemp speaks on August 26 in Marietta, Georgia. Brynn Anderson/AP Photo

Kemp already has the power to shift the observance of two unnamed state holidays. Those days used to specifically commemorate Confederate Memorial Day on April 26 and Robert E. Lee's birthday on January 19. In 2015, after Dylann Roof shot and killed nine people during a bible study at a Black church in Charleston, South Carolina, then-Governor Nathan Deal stopped designating Lee's Birthday and Confederate Memorial Day as holidays.

This year, what is now the unnamed January 19 state holiday was taken on the Friday after Thanksgiving, while the unnamed April 26 state holiday was observed on Good Friday before Easter.

Kemp is overdue in designating what days will be observed in 2022, an apparent consequence of deciding what to do about Juneteenth. He fixed the 2021 holidays in an a memo on August 17, 2020, and fixed the 2020 holidays in a July 15, 2019, memo. But 2022's holidays, including Juneteenth, weren't posted until Wednesday.

Although some federal agencies closed in June—days after the Juneteenth bill was signed, the Georgia state government remained open.

House Bill 444 was introduced last year in the state House by Representative Paris of Macon and other Democrats to mandate that Juneteenth be a state holiday, but saw no action.

Paris said the holiday marks the liberation of both those who were enslaved and those who were oppressing the slaves.

The Georgia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union had called for Kemp to drop the Columbus Day holiday on October 11 and instead designate Juneteenth, saying Columbus Day commemorates the shameful dispossession and killing of the native peoples of the Americas.

So far, at least nine states have designated Juneteenth as an official paid state holiday—Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Texas, Virginia and Washington. All except Texas, where the events of the original Juneteenth took place, acted after the killing of George Floyd last year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Juneteenth, Atlanta, Georgia
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp showed his support for a state bill that would recognize Juneteenth as a mandatory holiday for state employees. Above, a band participates in a parade to celebrate Juneteenth on June 19 in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo by Megan Varner/Getty Images