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Phoenix City Council unanimously approves Juneteenth as paid city holiday

The Phoenix City Council unanimously approved a new paid city holiday at its Wednesday meeting. Juneteenth will become an annual holiday starting this year.

Juneteenth recognizes June 19, 1865, the official end of slavery in the United States. That’s when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, to inform enslaved Black people of their freedom. It was two months after the Civil War and more than two years after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

During public comment, Dr. Ann Hart spoke in support of the council’s action.

“This holiday will allow each generation to reflect what more there is to do,” she said. “Juneteenth for all of us is to think about the meaning of freedom for African Americans in particular as well as to the nation and the rest of the world.

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego wants to see the holiday become a day on, not a day off.

“It is my hope that we will have our young people at the forefront of this important celebration and that it will be a great opportunity for the city to honor Juneteenth — what it means, where we’ve been and a positive indicator of how we want to build our communities going forward,” she said.

According to Gallego, the city’s initial Juneteenth celebration was held in 1911. Longtime community leader Vernell Coleman, along with a group of Matthew Henson residents, revived the celebration at Dunbar Elementary School in 1968. The event  grew into a festival that continues today at Eastlake Park.

A spokesperson for Tempe said city employees were given the day off in 2020 and 2021 and council members are expected to discuss making Juneteenth a permanent city holiday soon.

Last year, President Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independent Day Act, making June 19 a federal holiday.

As a senior field correspondent, Christina Estes focuses on stories that impact our economy, your wallet and public policy.