(AP Photo/Steve Helber, File) Gov. Ralph Northam
(AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

Gov. Ralph Northam announced Tuesday that he will propose legislation to designate Juneteenth, which celebrates the day that all slaves in the U.S were freed, as a paid state holiday in Virginia. 

Northam said that in the past the state has recognized Juneteenth with an annual written proclamation. 

“That’s nice,” he said, “but we need to do much more. It’s time we elevate this, not just as a celebration for some Virginians but we also want to acknowledge and celebrate it with all of us because that’s how important this event is.”

He noted that although Juneteenth does not end racism, black oppression or violence it reminds us that “the door on the enslavement of African American people [is finally closed],” Northam said. “By commemorating that, we push people to think about the significance of Juneteenth.”

If Northam’s proposal passes, Virginia will become the second state in the U.S to celebrate Juneteenth as a paid holiday for state employees. Texas became the first state to celebrate Juneteenth in this fashion in 1980. 

Singer Pharrell Williams, who is from Virginia Beach, joined the governor to announce the proposed legislation. Williams has worked to get Juneteenth recognized as an official paid holiday and included references to it in his music, according to Gov. Northam. 

“This is a very special moment, very special. This is a big display of progress and I’m grateful for Virginia and to lead the way,” he said. “Black lives matter in the eyes of the commonwealth, I can’t say that they always have but finally we recognize that black lives absolutely matter and that’s not political.” 

Northam also announced that Virginia will not be entering Phase Three of recovery this week as health officials continue to monitor coronavirus cases in the state. He explained that while current health metrics are still looking good and the state is able to handle the caseload, there is concern of a coming spike. 

“We want to have more time to see how the numbers look before we make changes especially as we see surges in other parts of the country,” Northam said. “In the meantime, I encourage all Virginians to maintain social distancing, wear face coverings and wash your hands frequently because we know that these things work [to reduce the spread.]” 

Northam said more information about when Virginia could reach Phase Three of reopening and what new changes it will bring will be provided later this week.