Santa Clara County makes history with Juneteenth holiday
The Santa Clara County Department of Behavioral Health Services is reviewing a contract with a service provider. File photo.

June 19, the date that marks the end of slavery in the United States in 1865, is now a holiday for Santa Clara County employees — a first in California.

The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Sept. 22  to make the day, also known as Juneteenth, Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Liberation Day and Emancipation Day, the county’s 13th paid holiday.

The county plans to partner with the African American Community Services Agency for the annual Juneteenth celebration the group has held for nearly 40 years in San Jose.

The idea of the additional holiday stirred debate in part because it would cost $2.3 million in benefits and overtime.

Supervisors noted they weren’t looking at switching Juneteenth with other holidays (Cesar Chavez Day or the day after Thanksgiving) nor were they considering making it a floating holiday. After hours of comment across several meetings, supervisors heard loud and clear from the public they did not want anything but a new, additional holiday on June 19.

Supervisor Dave Cortese, who championed the holiday, said he hoped the action would encourage other cities, counties and states to adopt Juneteenth as an official holiday, too.

“I wish there was more that we could do at this moment,” Cortese said. “But this at least brings Juneteenth into a commensurate relationship with every other paid holiday not only in this county but hopefully across the country as well.”

Currently 47 states and the District of Columbia recognize Juneteenth as an official state holiday or observance.

Texas was the first state to recognize Juneteenth beginning in 1980. While not an official paid holiday, government employees have the option to take that day off or substitute it with another floating “optional” holiday. California began recognizing Juneteenth in 2003 but did not make it a state holiday.

After Santa Clara County’s historic decision, Milan Balinton, executive director of the African American Community Service Agency, encouraged Black residents to bask in the moment.

“I know to some Juneteenth is just a celebration,” Balinton said. “But for us it is a healing movement.”

“Juneteenth is a representation of freedom and may we all continue to fight for that freedom together,” Balintin said.

Supervisor Cindy Chavez said the decision reinforced the idea that Santa Clara County is one of the most interesting and diverse places in the country.

“This means we have to find lots and lots of ways to celebrate and educate our communities on our history,” she said.

“To make it a paid holiday says we really are demonstrating equity, engagement and inclusivity,” Chavez said. “We’re sharing that with our employees and with the entire county.”

Contact Madelyn Reese at [email protected] and follow her @MadelynGReese.

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