“Opal Lee’s mission to preserve and elevate the history of Juneteenth - Emancipation Day - is nothing short of inspiring. It was an honor to meet her today and recognize her for her continued activism,” posted Kelly on Facebook. .

Kansas will join 28 other states and the District of Columbia in celebrating Juneteenth as a state holiday.  

“Juneteenth marks a significant point in our nation’s history and has long been celebrated in Kansas and across the United States,” Gov. Laura Kelly said. “Establishing Juneteenth as a state holiday provides Kansans an opportunity to celebrate our state’s diversity and honor the ongoing struggles for racial equality.” 

Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, the day the last enslaved Americans received word that President Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation to abolish slavery, more than two years before. By that time, the war had been over for several months and Lincoln had been assassinated.

Kelly has issued proclamations recognizing Juneteenth every year since 2020.  

“I am thrilled that Juneteenth will be a state holiday,” said Stacey Knoell, executive director of the Kansas African American Affairs Commission. “This day is a perfect example of the importance of learning the full picture of history, not to cast blame but to find reasons for acknowledging resilience. I hope this day can become one where Kansans can unite in celebration.” 

In 2021, Juneteenth became the first federal holiday created in more than 40 years. Since then, Kansas’ neighboring states of Nebraska, Missouri and Colorado have also established Juneteenth as a state holiday. The holiday will apply to state executive branch employees under Kelly’s jurisdiction. Whether or not to give the holiday as a paid day off remains the choice of employers.