Bill that would make Juneteenth a state holiday receives first legislative hearing

two women sit at a desk
Sen. Elvi Gray Jackson and her Chief of Staff Besse Odom speak at the Feb. 15, 2023 hearing for a bill that would make Juneteenth a state holiday. (KTOO/Gavel Alaska screenshot)

The Senate State Affairs Committee heard a bill Tuesday that would make Juneteenth a state holiday in Alaska.

Juneteenth is already a national holiday. It commemorates the day when enslaved people in Galveston learned from a Union soldier that they were free — more than two months after the end of the Civil War. The holiday is recognized nationally, and by 24 other states, on June 19.

Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson, D-Anchorage, first introduced a similar bill in 2021, but it was referred to committee and didn’t advance. She introduced SB 22 at the start of this year’s session. 

At the hearing, she said that this holiday — and the history behind it — has been overlooked in the past.

“This moment in our nation’s history shows the urgent need for history to be more thoroughly understood,” Gray-Jackson said. “When we talk about America, we often think about high ideals like freedom and justice. By studying Juneteenth, we can better understand how these ideas have simply not been applied equally.”

Celeste Hodge Growden with the Alaska Black Caucus testified first on the bill. 

“Becoming a state holiday will not merely give employees a day off. It will give residents a day to think about the future that we want while remembering the inequities of the past,” she said.

Vikki Jo Kennedy of Juneau called in to say she supports the bill but was worried that public transportation wouldn’t run on the holiday.

“The majority of people who ride public transportation in our state alone, just ours, are people of color,” Kennedy said.

Gray-Jackson worked on making Martin Luther King Jr. Day a paid holiday in Anchorage in 1999 when she was an Assembly staff member. The first bill she sponsored as a state senator established February as Black History Month in Alaska and became law in 2019.

KTOO is our partner public media station in Juneau. Alaska Public Media collaborates with partners statewide to cover Alaska news.

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