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West Virginia city to vote on Juneteenth holiday proposal

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) — The Huntington City Council in West Virginia will vote Wednesday on a proposal to make Juneteenth an permanent city holiday.

The celebration, which commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S., is held annually on June 19. Huntington Mayor Steve Williams told The Herald-Dispatch he supports the proposal because he wants the city’s African-American residents to know “the city celebrates Juneteenth with them just as we all celebrate July Fourth together.”

The mayor said the idea for the holiday proposal came from meetings with his diversity advisory committee amid the international protests following the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a Minneapolis officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck as he pleaded for air.

Other members of the council have been supportive of the proposal, Council Chairman Mark Bates told the newspaper, and Williams said Wednesday’s meeting will help fast-track the resolution so council members can get it in the books before this Friday.

If it passes, Huntington City Hall will be closed Friday for the holiday, some city services will be limited and city workers will receive holiday pay, WOWK-TV reported.

“It would be absolutely wonderful if this could catch fire in other cities throughout West Virginia and throughout the nation,” Williams said.

On Tuesday, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam also announced he would propose making Juneteenth an official state holiday.

The holiday commemorates June 19, 1865, when news finally reached African Americans in Texas that President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves living in Confederate states two years earlier. When Union soldiers arrived in Galveston to bring the news that slavery had been abolished, former slaves celebrated.