Senator to propose bill to make Juneteenth a North Dakota holiday; Burgum declares day of celebration

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Barbara Jordan, right, and Gerri McBride listen to music at the Juneteenth celebration in 2015 at Cooke Park in Rochester, Minn. Forum News Service file photo

BISMARCK — North Dakota is currently one of three U.S. states that does not publicly acknowledge Juneteenth, a holiday that celebrates black Americans' freedom from slavery, and local public officials are taking action.

Gov. Doug Burgum announced in a tweet that Friday, June 19, is "Juneteenth Celebration Day" in North Dakota.

"We encourage North Dakotans to observe and learn more about this day commemorating the end of slavery, as we renew our commitment to the ideals of democracy and liberty, justice and equality for all citizens," Burgum wrote.

This celebratory declaration only declares June 19, 2020, as "Juneteenth Celebration Day," and does not name following years.

In an effort to recognize Juneteenth each year, Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo, said he will propose a bill in the next legislative session that recognizes Juneteenth as a North Dakota holiday.


Mathern said that after reading a Forum story published this week about Juneteenth he wants North Dakota to recognize the holiday in a sign of respect for black North Dakotans.

The next legislative session, which occurs every other year in the state, will begin on Jan. 5, 2021.

Mathern said he was part of the Legislature's effort to get North Dakota to recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Indigenous Peoples' Day. He said the bill to acknowledge Martin Luther King Jr. Day statewide took multiple sessions to make into law, as some legislators repeatedly struck it down.

Though the senator said he hasn't talked to his counterparts about potential support for the legislation and that making Juneteenth a North Dakota holiday is "not a slam dunk," he's hopeful that others will back it.

Mathern also said he had not been knowledgeable about the holiday until reading The Forum's article.

Juneteenth is not a federal holiday, but states have adopted it to celebrate the freedom of black Americans. On June 19, 1865, Union Gen. Gordon Granger traveled to Galveston, Texas, and announced the end of the Civil War and slavery, according to a Congressional Research Service report.

Although President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation almost 2 1/2 years before Granger's announcement, June 19, or Juneteenth, is considered the end of slavery because some slave owners continued to own and work slaves after Lincoln gave his speech, the report states.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Michelle Griffith, a Report for America corps member, at

Michelle (she/her, English speaker) is a Bismarck-based journalist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and Report for America, a national service organization that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered topics and communities.
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