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Mass. House Approves Juneteenth State Holiday

March organizer Monica Cannon-Grant speaks to protesters gathered in front of the Massachusetts State House during the Juneteenth protest and march in honor of Rayshard Brooks. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
March organizer Monica Cannon-Grant speaks to protesters gathered in front of the Massachusetts State House during the Juneteenth protest and march in honor of Rayshard Brooks. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Juneteenth is a step closer to becoming a state holiday in Massachusetts after the House on Wednesday agreed to mark June 19 as Juneteenth Independence Day.

The holiday took place last Friday and residents across the state took the streets in large numbers to peacefully celebrate the occasion against a backdrop of nationwide protests against police violence and systemic racism. State officials, including Gov. Charlie Baker, have filed police reform bills they hope to pass before the end of session on July 31.

Rep. Bud Williams of Springfield filed the Juneteeth amendment and called its addition to a COVID-19 spending bill a "big step" during a speech during Wednesday's House session.

"This a real important day," he said. "We filed this in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter. In terms of making this state holiday, it will go a long way in bridging the racial gap between individuals."

Juneteenth is a celebration of the day when enslaved African Americans in Texas were told they were free, more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Several bills were filed in the House and Senate last week that would make it an official state holiday in Massachusetts.

The Senate still needs to act on the Juneteenth proposal and leaders in that branch have indicated support for making the day a state holiday.

Gov. Charlie Baker issued a Juneteenth proclamation Friday, and said he looks forward "to working with our legislative colleagues to recognize this important day more widely going forward."

Asked about the the holiday bills during a press conference last Friday, Baker said he "would look forward to working with the Legislature to come up with an approach to this that puts a much finer emphasis and a bigger point on Juneteenth."

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