Juneteenth is now a Colorado state holiday

Gov. Jared Polis signed into law Monday a bill making Juneteenth a state holiday. 

“Celebrating this holiday really has us looking at our history,” Polis said to about 50 people gathered at Cleo Parker Robinson Dance in Denver. “It’s also a chance to look forward, and continue the fight for freedom, equity and dignity for everyone.”

Juneteenth marks the day in 1865, on June 19, when the final Black Texans learned slavery was over. The institution had legally ended in 1862 with the Emancipation Proclamation, but enslaved people in Texas didn’t find out until two and a half years later, during which time they continued to toil as enslaved people. 

Last year, Juneteenth became a federal holiday. However, being a state holiday means students will learn about Juneteenth in class curriculum, students will have school off and state workers will get a paid day off, according to state Rep. Leslie Herod, one of the law’s advocates. 

“Not only is this about the state holiday,” Herod said, “but additionally, it’s about the fact that over 200,000 college students and 400,000 students in K-12 education will have this day off and will have curriculum based around why Juneteenth is a holiday.” 

Hawaii and North Dakota recognized Juneteenth as a state holiday last year, following Texas, Massachusetts, New York, Virginia, Washington and Oregon, states that had already recognized it in previous years.

“It was a historic day, where we were able to sign the Juneteenth holiday into law, making Colorado one of the first states to do so,” said Herod.

It could be an inspiration for students, she said. 

“They’ll learn about our country’s history of slavery – the tough parts – but also the celebration of our liberation, and maybe even ask themselves what more they can do to ensure that people are truly free.”

Polis signed the bill using several different pens, which he handed out to people instrumental in getting the law passed. Then he danced around on stage briefly, looking joyful and confident. 

He noted that signing the Juneteenth bill marked the first time in two years he’d signed legislation in the Cleo Parker Robinson performance center. In March 2020, he was also at the venue in Five Points, Denver’s Black cultural hub, to sign the Crown Act into law, which makes it illegal for people to be fired for wearing natural Black hairstyles in their workplaces. 

“This holiday,” Polis added, “is another step in fulfilling the promise of a Colorado for all.”