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Pictured here at the 2015 Portland celebration are Clara Peoples (center), Ora Green (second from left), Tameka Walker as Sojourner Truth, Skeeter Green as Beatrice Morrow Cannady, David Lichtenstein as Abraham Lincoln and Shalanda Sims as Harriet Tubman. Photo by Jerry Foster / The Skanner News Archives.
By The Skanner News
Published: 17 June 2020

The City of Portland and Multnomah County have both made June 19 a paid holiday for city and county employees, and Mayor Ted Wheeler has designated a citywide shutdown in observance of Juneteenth.

Celebrated on June 19 each year, Juneteenth, a blending of the words “June” and “nineteenth,” marks the 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.’’ 

When Oregon was founded as a state in 1857, its constitution explicitly banned Black people from visiting, living, and owning property here. "To this day, navigating life as a Black American in our city and country does not come with the same privileges experienced by others," Mayor Ted Wheeler said in a statement.

"Despite the many barriers placed in front of them, Black Americans have showed time and time again, their resiliency, strength, wisdom, and courage," the statement continues. "We want to formally recognize the significance of June 19 and observe it as a day of both remembrance and action. We are committed to making sure this holiday is more than a gesture. It must symbolize our commitment to eliminating anti-Black racism within the City of Portland’s workforce and community." 

Juneteenth 2018 full
This Feb. 18, 2005, file photo shows the original Emancipation Proclamation on display in the Rotunda of the National Archives in Washington. President Abraham Lincoln first issued the Emancipation Proclamation declaring all slaves free in Confederate territory on Sept. 22, 1862.

The ordinance will: 

  • Formally recognize and apologize for the atrocities Black people have suffered in this nation and in Portland, Oregon. 
  • Formalize a commitment and plan to deconstruct structural racism, particularly anti-Black racism, through task forces dedicated to developing intersectional internal and external solutions focused on the workplace, public safety, mental health, housing, income inequality, economic development, and prosperity.
  • The City’s bureau directors, guided by the Office of Equity and Human Rights and the Bureau of Human Resources, will also lead the development of internal task forces dedicated to deconstructing institutional and systemic racism and make a commitment to strive toward an anti-racist workplace culture.
  • Establish June 19 as a formal day of remembrance and recognition of Black American history and making it a paid holiday and Citywide shutdown (Black Out).

Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury has also made Juneteenth an annual paid holiday for all County employees. 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,’’ said Chair Kafoury. “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.’’

City and County employees are urged on Juneteenth to use the day not only for celebration, but as an opportunity to learn about White supremacy, Black history locally and nationally, to support Black writers, filmmakers and artists, patronize Black-owned businesses, and honor the accomplishments of Black colleagues.

View information about Juneteenth Oregon 2020 and other events here.

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