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Juneteenth an official state holiday after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signs bill

Assemblywoman Kimberly Jean-Pierre, (D-Wheatley Heights), speaks during a

Assemblywoman Kimberly Jean-Pierre, (D-Wheatley Heights), speaks during a press conference regarding a new bill that would support the creation of "tourism recovery districts," allowing businesses such as hotels to collect a visitors' fee if local municipalities opt-in, at the Hilton Garden Inn in Plainview Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020. Credit: Barry Sloan

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Wednesday signed into law a bill making Juneteenth — which commemorates the end of slavery in the United States — an official state holiday.

"This is important for our children and our youth to understand the history of Black Americans," said Assemb. Kimberly Jean-Pierre (D-Wheatley Heights), who voted for the bill. "I think with any holiday, once it’s a holiday and well-recognized, it’s taught more, it’s spoken about more. The dialogue continues, and it’s not forgotten."

Juneteenth marks the date, June 19, 1865, when a Union general told enslaved Black residents of Galveston, Texas, they were free, more than two months after the surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee and more than 2 1/2 years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

The Assembly unanimously approved the bill July 22, and the Senate unanimously passed a companion measure the following day.

On June 17, Cuomo signed an executive order making Juneteenth a paid holiday for state workers.

"This new public holiday will serve as a day to recognize the achievements of the Black community, while also providing an important opportunity for self-reflection on the systemic injustices that our society still faces today," Cuomo said in a statement Wednesday.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy on Sept. 10 signed legislation designating Juneteenth a state holiday, and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker did so July 24. Texas was the first state to celebrate it as an official state holiday, in 1980.

This year, Juneteenth commemorations on Long Island and elsewhere included protests against police brutality and racism, in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis while in police custody.

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