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UPDATE: City of Portland will also make June 19, which celebrates the abolition of slavery in the United States, a paid holiday

FILE PHOTO - Dressed as Harriett Tubman, Evangelist Shirley Dailey from the Bethel AMC Church leads the Juneteenth Freedom Trail Parade in song as they make their way down Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in 2001.More than 6,000 Multnomah County employees will now celebrate a holiday honoring the historical and ongoing struggles of the African American community.

Juneteenth — which is observed annually on June 19 — honors the abolition of slavery in the United States, and specifically those in Texas, who had been kept in chains until June 1865, despite the conclusion of the Civil War in April and passage of the Emancipation Proclamation years earlier.

"I know that declaring a holiday is just one small step in acknowledging the unique and difficult experience of black employees," Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury said in a county-wide email to all employees on June 12. "But I hope this day can used for respite and renewal."

Mayor Ted Wheeler formally announced the city will do the same thing on Tuesday, May 19.

"Over the past week, my colleagues and I have been looking at ways the City can best acknowledge that history and highlight Juneteenth — an annual commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States. We want to formally recognize the significance of June 19 and observe it as a day of both remembrance and action," Wheeler said in a press release.

As a paid day off, Juneteenth will now be given the same status and recognition as Independence Day, Memorial Day and Presidents' Day — at least for city and county employees.

Kafoury said she hopes the holiday serves as a reminder of the "hard and necessary work we must continue to dismantle systems of oppression," and gives workers a chance to support African American businesses and artists.

Activists have pushed to make Juneteenth a federal holiday for years, and businesses such as Spotify, Quicken Loans, J.C. Penny and, just this year, Nike, have begun to commemorate it internally.


Zane Sparling
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