Anchorage senator to propose bill to make Juneteenth a state holiday

(left) Department of Labor Commissioner Tamika Ledbetter and Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson greet each other after Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s State of the State address on January 27, 2020 in Juneau, Alaska. (Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

State Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson is planning to introduce a bill that would make Juneteenth an official Alaska state holiday. 

The day celebrates the emancipation of Black Americans who had been enslaved. It is the anniversary of a Union officer in Galveston, Texas, announcing that all former slaves were free. 

Gray-Jackson, an Anchorage Democrat, announced the plan on Friday. She said that while the day is commemorated in state law, it’s long overdue for it to be a holiday. 

“I’m bringing it forward because I want to elevate Juneteenth to the level of other legal holidays, like July 4th, Labor Day and Memorial Day,” she said.

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Gray-Jackson plans to introduce the bill before the next Legislature convenes in January. 

“And I think by elevating this day, we can create an environment for a better understanding of the history of race in Alaska and America,” she said.

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Alaska has 11 state holidays. Gray-Jackson hopes Juneteenth would be added as another holiday, and not replace one that already exists. 

“The events of the past few months and the moment our nation is currently in has shown an urgent need for history to be more thoroughly understood,” she said.

Gray-Jackson said legislators from both parties have expressed an interest in joining her as sponsors. 

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

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