Academy Award-winning musician and Virginia Beach native Pharrell joined Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam in declaring Juneteenth as a state holiday last Tuesday.
According to Rolling Stone, Pharrell made an appearance on The
Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon where he shared that the collaboration between himself and Northam grew out of an understanding of how momentous the day is for the people of Virginia and Black people nationally.
“So I called [Northam] and I just said, ‘Man, I just feel like this is important for not only your own legacy but for the legacy of Virginia,'" he said. "'And if you would be willing to officiate this and make this a paid holiday, I will travel for the first time out of my house.’ … Because this is for not only me, but this is for my ancestors that absolutely came through on the hull of a ship in Virginia 400 years ago, over 401 years ago. So for me, this was incredibly symbolic and it’s necessary."
Virginia became the second state to adopt the holiday after Texas declared Juneteenth a national holiday in 1980, Yahoo News reports. The vast majority of states, 47 in total, have previously designated Juneteenth as an “observance,” which means it is commemorated but not as a federally supported holiday.
Virginia’s declaration, however, means June 19 will be a paid day off for state employees. Legally, private companies aren’t required to give employees the day off, but the motion could encourage organizations to support their workers in observing the holiday. According to the Employment Law Handbook, Massachusetts and Rhode Island would be the only states that could mandate that private companies pay employees for the day off or pay employees extra if they decide to work.
Last Tuesday, Pharrell shared that he would be endorsing Juneteenth with Northam and that his fight wouldn’t stop there.
"A paid holiday, it's not the end of it, it's just the beginning of it," he said during the press conference.
"A paid holiday, it's not the end of it, it's just the beginning of it," Virginia Beach native @Pharrell said about Virginia declaring Juneteenth a state holiday.
"Black lives matter in the eyes of the commonwealth. They didn't always, but they do now." https://t.co/fMxRrFE5FO
— WAVY TV 10 (@WAVY_News) June 16, 2020
In his statement, Pharrell emphasized the significance of the holiday and how it should be compared to other holidays Americans celebrate.
“Our country excels, and I mean, excels at celebrating Independence Day. But it’s not perfect. Juneteenth deserves the same level of recognition and celebration. July 4, 1776, not everybody was free and celebrating their independence day. So here’s our day, and if you love us, it’ll be your day, too,” Pharrell said.
Pharrell tweeted scores of governors’ official Twitter accounts asking them to sign Juneteenth, or Freedom Day, into state legislation.
Harnessing the power of social media, the Neptunes producer was able to garner pledges from various elected officials around the country.
— Senator Nikema Williams (@NikemaWilliams) June 18, 2020
According to Broadway.com, Pharrell is working with Black AF creator Kenya Barris on a feature-length musical about the holiday. The project is separate from the stage play the two also have in development.
Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. On June 19, 1865, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston to end slavery in Texas, which was the last place the Confederacy upheld the practice. Even though President Abraham Lincoln announced the Emancipation Proclamation two years earlier, the day that has become known as Juneteenth marked, for many, the true end of slavery in America.