Minnesota’s first Juneteenth as a formal holiday arrives Monday

Two Black legislators jokingly point at each other
Rep. Ruth Richardson and Senate President Bobby Champion share a lighthearted moment during a press conference marking the first time Minnesota celebrates Juneteenth as an official state holiday at the State Capitol in St. Paul on Thursday.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Monday marks the first time Juneteenth will be an official state holiday in Minnesota.

It has been observed for generations as a day to reflect on the abolition of slavery, but a law change this year put it among the formal observances. Those who sought the holiday status say it represents a sign of inclusiveness and commemoration of Black history.

“This is about acknowledging our nation's struggle, celebrating our history and recognizing the importance of forging our future together,” said Senate President Bobby Joe Champion, DFL-Minneapolis. “This new state holiday is an accomplishment by and for Black Minnesotans and all Minnesotans, and it is a moment that we can all celebrate together.”

State officials and community members pose for a photo
Gov. Tim Walz, state legislators and community leaders pose for a group photo at the State Capitol in St. Paul on Thursday.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Champion appeared Thursday alongside state officials, community representatives and faith leaders to urge people to attend local events or take time to brush up on history.

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“We learn the history to improve the future, we learn the history to face up to where we're at,”  Gov. Tim Walz said.

Juneteenth has been commemorated by Black Americans and others because it marks the day in 1865 that the final enslaved African Americans learned they were free — more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

The state holiday will mean the closure of many government offices; it is already a federal holiday. But for this year there is no formal state ceremony.

Two Black legislators embrace
Rep. Ruth Richardson and Senate President Bobby Champion embrace at the conclusion of a press conference at the State Capitol in St. Paul on Thursday.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Linda Sloan, executive director of the Council for Minnesotans of African Heritage, said she hopes that will change down the road, too.

“This is a start. This is where it begins,” Sloan said. “And so next year we anticipate being able to come out in fellowship and collectively brainstorm — on how can we continue to move things forward, how can we continue to celebrate the connectivity of all of us and the richness of what everyone can bring to the table?”

Vusumuzi Zulu of the Black Storytellers Alliance applauded Minnesota officials who passed the law after years of trying.

“We know that no struggle is achieved in just a moment or a minute. It takes time. It takes perseverance. It takes folks to do like it says in that Black gospel song: When you get knocked down, you gotta get back up again,” Zulu said. “And that's what we are doing. So thank you all, people of Minnesota.”

A Black man speaks at a podium
St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter thanks state legislators at the State Capitol in St. Paul on Thursday.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

MPR News reporter Dana Ferguson contributed to this story.