Recognizing Juneteenth: California's Newest Official Holiday

Posted by Catherine Chukwueke | Sep 28, 2023

On September 29, 2022, Governor Gavin Newsom approved AB 1655, a legislative measure commonly referred to as the Jones-Sawyer bill. This pivotal bill elevated June 19, celebrated as "Juneteenth," to the list of state holidays in California.  Juneteenth now enjoys official recognition as a holiday for public schools and community colleges, along with other nationally recognized holidays established by federal statutes signed into law by the President.

The roots of Juneteenth trace back to Galveston, Texas, which stood as the westernmost region of the Union in 1865. It was on June 19, 1865, that the enslaved population there finally received news of their long-awaited emancipation. Yet, the harsh reality was that these individuals had technically been free for two-and-a-half years already, thanks to President Abraham Lincoln's historic Emancipation Proclamation, issued on January 1, 1863. However, slaveholders in Texas deliberately concealed this information, prolonging the brutal exploitation of enslaved African Americans. The following year, in 1866, Texas saw its first Juneteenth celebration, marking the inaugural observance of freedom from the bonds of slavery in the United States.

Juneteenth is an annual celebration held on June 19th each year. The name itself is a fusion of "June" and "nineteenth." This day serves as a poignant commemoration of the moment when word of the Emancipation Proclamation, symbolizing liberation from chattel slavery, finally reached the hearts and minds of the enslaved populace in Galveston, Texas, on that fateful June day in 1865, a full three years after President Abraham Lincoln's momentous proclamation. It is heralded as the longest-standing holiday in African American and Black communities. The significance of Juneteenth was officially cemented when the U.S. Congress passed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act in 2021, designating it as a federal holiday.

In addition to these historic recognitions, state employees have been granted the option to take paid time off to observe Juneteenth. The Jones-Sawyer bill also encompasses other crucial alterations to various sections of the Education Code and the Government Code. The implementation of these changes hinges on the enactment of related bills. These legislative adjustments are designed to ensure the proper acknowledgment of holidays established by federal statutes and to guarantee that employees receive their entitled paid holidays based on their employment status.

Employers must ensure that Juneteenth is acknowledged as a holiday and update their employee handbooks to officially recognize Juneteenth as a holiday in California.

If you need assistance in revising or creating an employee handbook that complies with California law, contact the Law Office of Catherine Chukwueke and schedule a consultation. 

Disclaimer: This article has been prepared and published for informational purposes only and is not offered, nor should be construed, as legal advice. 

About the Author

Catherine Chukwueke

Catherine (“Cathy”) Chukwueke is the Owner and Principal Attorney of the Law Office of Catherine Chukwueke, a law firm focusing on labor and employment matters and workplace investigations. Ms. Chukwueke is passionate about helping people who have been mistreated in the workplace.

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