Saying we are in a moment of reckoning for our country’s systemic oppression of black people, Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury has made Juneteenth an annual paid holiday for all county employees.
Juneteenth, a blending of the words “June” and “nineteenth,” marks the approximate day in 1865 that news of the abolition of slavery reached the westernmost slave state of Texas — two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation declaring that enslaved people within the rebellious states "are, and henceforward shall be free.’’
Although Juneteenth has been regularly celebrated by Multnomah County employees and community members as a day of commemoration, education and achievement, the chair’s designation places the day of observance alongside Independence Day, Memorial Day and Presidents’ Day in significance and impact.
“We have a profound responsibility at the county to acknowledge that the structural inequities in our community and country are rooted in the original enslavement of black people,’’ Kafoury said in a statement released to news organizations. “Observing the day of black liberation honors the historic and current struggle, acknowledges the strength of our black neighbors, friends and family, and reminds us of the hard and necessary work we must continue to dismantle systems of oppression.’’
Kafoury made the announcement Friday in an email to more than 6,000 employees on behalf of the board of county commissioners, including Sharon Meieran, Susheela Jayapal, Jessica Vega Pederson and Lori Stegmann.
“I know that declaring a holiday is just one small step in acknowledging the unique and difficult experience of black employees,’’ Kafoury said. “But I hope this day can used for respite and renewal.’’
She urged other staff to use the day not only for celebration, but as an opportunity to learn about black history locally and nationally, to support black writers, filmmakers and artists, patronize black-owned businesses, and honor the accomplishments of black colleagues.