The state of Hawaii is close to becoming the 49th state to recognize Juneteenth after the state House and Senate passed legislation Wednesday.
If Hawaii Gov. David Ige signs the bill, it will leave South Dakota as the lone state not to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States. Gov. Ige has not announced whether he will sign the bill and even if he does, it will not make the day a holiday.
Juneteenth commemorates the ending of slavery in the United States. On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers led by Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger landed in Galveston, Texas, with news that the Civil War was over and enslaved Black Americans were now free. This was two years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, which became official on Jan. 1, 1863.
The proclamation had little effect on Texas due to the small number of Union troops in the state, but between General Lee’s surrender in April 1965 and Maj. Gen.Granger’s arrival in Texas, Union troops had enough resources to enforce the law and overcome any resistance.
Akiemi Glenn, the founder and executive director of the Popolo Project, told NBC News the state has been slow to recognize the holiday because the state’s Black American population is small. According to the Census Bureau, Hawaii’s population in 2019 was 1.4 million, but less than 30,000 people in the state are Black Americans.
Glenn also pointed out that Black Americans in the state are treated as foreigners despite the presence of Black Americans in Hawaii dating back to the 18th century.
Juneteenth was brought back into the national spotlight last summer amid the Black Lives Matter movement and the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Also, a bevy of companies celebrated the holiday giving employees the day off.
Texas was the first state to recognize the holiday in 1980. North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum signed legislation earlier this month declaring it a holiday.