On Feb. 2, the Minnesota House passed the Juneteenth holiday bill with a bipartisan vote of 126-1, following the Senate’s 57-8 vote the week before.
“It’s taken a long time to get to this point,” said Rep. Ruth Richardson (DFL-District 52B), a second-term legislator from the Twin Cities. “I just want to reflect on the fact that I’m standing on the shoulders of a lot of people right now,” she said, acknowledging the long history of the legislation.
The Juneteenth bill was first introduced in 1996 by the late Minnesota state representative Richard Jefferson. Richardson was among several scheduled speakers at the Feb. 3 bill signing at the state capitol. A large group of legislators, other elected officials, and longtime supporters stood behind Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz as he signed the Juneteenth bill into law.
“I hope it doesn’t get lost in this bipartisan legislature to have advocates on both sides,” said Walz. “Juneteenth is a powerful celebration that was overdue to become an official holiday.”
Juneteenth, which became a federal holiday in 2021, recognizes the announcement to Blacks in Texas on June 19, 1865, of the abolition of slavery. This was more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation and two months after Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox in April 1865.
With the passage of the bill, June 19 becomes an official state holiday in Minnesota.
Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, in briefly dismissing those critics of teaching Black history, including Juneteenth, added, “Our young people can handle the truth. And in fact, we deserve to know the truth.
“As we’re talking about telling the truth and acknowledging our history…we acknowledge history and what has happened. [By telling] the truth, we can reflect on how far we’ve come. We can reflect on how far we have to go, and what our individual responsibility is to make this country and make this state better,” said Flanagan.
“Juneteenth is not just a look back, but [we are] also blessed to reconnect ourselves to that,” said Sen. Bobby Joe Champion (DFL-Minneapolis), the most senior state lawmaker of color who became the first Black person to serve as senate president when the state legislative session began last month.
Before the Juneteenth bill signing, Walz also signed into law the CROWN Act, which prohibits discrimination based on race and cultural hairstyles. Under the state’s Human Rights Act, race and culturally-based discrimination is outlawed, but legislators and proponents wanted more explicit language put into law with the CROWN Act. The bill passed 111-19 in the House on Jan. 11 and 45-19 in the Senate on Jan. 26. “Discrimination has no place in Minnesota,” stressed Walz.
“This wasn’t done just by me or just by Sen. Champion,” said Rep. Esther Agbaje (DFL-Minneapolis). “We had a whole lot of people.” Agbaje is also co-chair of the People of Color and Indigenous Caucus in the house. She told the gathering that Minnesota joins 19 other states that have passed similar laws prohibiting hair discrimination. “We want more people to show up as their authentic selves,” Agbaje said.
Champion briefly referenced his two sons who wear dreadlocks. “They [now] have an opportunity to be judged on their skills and qualifications and they should not be discriminated against.”
“It’s a proud day for me as a Black woman and a mom,” said Tiffany Daniels, managing director of the Minnesota Business Coalition for Racial Equity.
Many attendees, including Walz, Flanagan and other elected officials, noted that the two bills successfully crossed the legislative finish line because of a DFL governor and a lieutenant governor who is Native American, a new DFL majority in both state houses, as well as the state’s most diverse legislative body—at least 35 of 201 members of the senate and house are people of color.
“It is always exciting to have the most diverse legislature in history because it also enlarges the conversation and brings various perspectives around issues,” said Sen. Champion. “We’ve got to continue to push our issues.”
Former state senator Jeff Hayden added, “When Sen. Champion and I came to the legislature, there were only two African Americans. Today we have over 31 people of color, and about a third of those are considered Black people. I am really proud of that.”
“Our goal here is to make sure every Minnesotan feels valued in Minnesota,” stressed Walz. “I think the last several years have been hard, especially hard on the Black community. These are really important steps forward.”
“I am looking forward to seeing what we accomplish this year,” added Flanagan.
“If there’s ever been a legislative session where it is crystal clear that representation matters, it is this one,” concluded Richardson. “I’m so excited, and I can’t wait for the next several months. We’re going to continue to do right by people in our community, helping things move forward.
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