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Polis, legislators introduce bill to create Juneteenth state holiday

Gov. Jared Polis and members of the Black Democratic Legislative Caucus held a news conference on the bill Wednesday at the state Capitol.
Credit: KUSA
State Rep. Leslie Herod speaks at a news conference Wednesday on the introduction of a bill to make Juneteenth a state holiday.

DENVER — Gov. Jared Polis and sponsors and supporters of a bill to create a Juneteenth state holiday spoke at a news conference Wednesday about the history of the day and their excitement to see it become the state's 11th holiday.

The bill to establish Juneteenth as a state holiday (SB22-139) was introduced Feb. 24 by sponsors Rep. Leslie Herod and Sens. Janet Buckner and James Coleman, members of the Black Democratic Legislative Caucus.

"We actually have to fight for our freedom, and we need everyone to come together for that fight," Herod said. "But additionally, I want folks to celebrate the rich culture of Black people right here in Colorado and throughout this nation."

Juneteenth, became a federal holiday last year. It commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, and announced the end of the Civil War and the emancipation of tens of thousands of enslaved Black people.

President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation two and a half years earlier, but the news didn't spread to some areas until much later.

"As a kid, I thought that when the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, everybody was free," Herod said. "... It actually took years before people were truly, truly free. And Juneteenth – June 19 – is a celebration of our true liberation."

Denver has one of the largest Juneteenth celebrations in the nation with the Juneteenth Music Festival in Five Points and an accompanying parade.

The news conference came a day after Polis signed House Bill 1196, creating a task force to study pay equity among state employees and to make recommendations to close pay gaps.

Colorado WINS, the union that represents state employees, pushed for the law and for a contract with the state that included a $15 minimum wage for all state employees and a 3% yearly cost of living increase.

Skip Miller, president of Colorado WINS, said at the news conference that the contract, the study and a Juneteenth holiday are part of a broader commitment to diversity in Colorado.

"Juneteenth is not just a Black American holiday," Miller said. "It is an American holiday."

Multiple times, speakers praised former state Rep. Wilma Webb for fighting to establish Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a state holiday in 1985. MLK Day is the most recent state holiday created in Colorado.

"With all of us working together, Juneteenth will be made a state holiday in Colorado, to proclaim that not only are Black people free but that all of us are free," Coleman said.

The State, Veterans & Military Affairs Committee will take up the bill on March 15.

If the bill passes and is signed by Polis, Colorado will celebrate its first Juneteenth holiday this year.

RELATED: Colorado lawmakers aim to make Juneteenth a state holiday

RELATED: What is Juneteenth?

RELATED: US celebrates first federally recognized Juneteenth

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