BISMARCK — As demonstrators continue to flood city streets and demand racial equality nationwide, on Friday, June 19, almost every U.S. state will officially recognize the emancipation of slaves, but not North Dakota.
North Dakota, South Dakota and Hawaii are the only states that do not recognize or acknowledge Juneteenth, also known as Black Independence Day and Emancipation Day, as a statewide holiday.
It is not a federal holiday, but states have adopted it to celebrate the freedom of black Americans from slavery. 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.
"We're all American, and we all should value our history," said Claudie Washington, an executive committee member of the NAACP's Duluth, Minnesota branch. "We need to understand that that history makes us who we are today."
North Dakota is a largely white state, and about 3.5% of residents are black, according to U.S. Census estimates.
In order for North Dakota to officially acknowledge Juneteenth as a statewide holiday, legislators would need to pass a bill through the state House and Senate with a majority vote.
"I had no idea that (Juneteenth) was even a holiday," said Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson. "Never heard of it."
House Majority Leader Chet Pollert, R-Carrington, also said he did not know what the holiday was, but if a legislator brought a bill forward that acknowledged Juneteenth as a holiday, the "bill would get a full hearing, no doubt about that."
Demonstrators have planned a peaceful protest beginning in Fargo's Island Park on Juneteenth. They plan to march to City Hall and call for justice after what has been weeks of tension between local authorities and activists.
Tamara Halvorson, of Wyndmere, North Dakota, said she and her husband had never heard of Juneteenth until they heard about it on the news last week. She said she was surprised because throughout her high school and college education, she never learned about the holiday once.
Halvorson said she hopes others like herself who are unaware of what Juneteenth is can take the time to do some research of their own.
"On Friday, this is a chance for all to maybe learn a little bit more and maybe the more we learn ... about each other, the more we will appreciate each other," she said.
Last week, President Donald Trump announced that he would hold a campaign rally on Juneteenth in Tulsa, Oklahoma. This news garnered widespread backlash, as many thought it was insensitive to hold the rally where as many as 300 people were killed in the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. Trump bowed to pressure and announced he was pushing his campaign rally to Saturday, June 20.
Although North Dakota is a predominantly white state and there are those who are uneducated about the holiday, Washington said racism is the underlying factor in why some states and some people do not celebrate Juneteenth. But, he said he believes they should.
"The purpose of this holiday is (to) value each other as human beings," Washington said. "You can be all you can be, and I can be all I can be, and we're all greater and America is greater because of that."
Readers can reach Forum reporter Michelle Griffith, a Report for America corps member, at firstname.lastname@example.org.