20200621g_nws_protest_celebration (copy)

A woman holds up a child during The Phase IV Juneteenth Protest Celebration at Douglas Park in Greensboro, N.C., on Friday, June 19, 2020.

GREENSBORO — City workers will soon get an extra holiday that commemorates the true end of slavery in America.

The Greensboro City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved adding Juneteenth as a paid holiday for city employees starting next year. Greensboro joins Wake County and Carrboro in declaring Juneteenth an employee holiday, according to City Manager David Parrish.

Juneteenth, celebrated on June 19, commemorates the official end of slavery in the United States. The Emancipation Proclamation was signed and granted slaves their freedom over two years earlier but it took until June 19, 1865, until the last of the slaves in Texas were proclaimed free.

City Councilwoman Sharon Hightower, who made the motion at Tuesday's meeting, said the holiday would allow employees to learn about and commemorate vital history.

“As with Martin Luther King Jr. Day, it’s a day on, not a day off,” she said. “It’s a day to go learn something that you didn’t know about an African American friend.”

The change means Greensboro employees will go from 12 to 13 paid holidays.

Because June 19 is on a Saturday next year, city workers will take their holiday on Friday. Holidays that fall on a Saturday are typically observed on the Friday before while holidays that fall on a Sunday are observed on the Monday immediately following the holiday.

This year, the city hosted a day of free, virtual Juneteenth activities in celebration and remembrance on June 19. Videos, Facebook Live events, and Zoom calls were held from 9 a.m. through 7:30 p.m. Events, which were broadcast on the city's Facebook page, included everything from cooking segments and historical perspectives to arts performances and panel discussions.

The new holiday is expected to cost the city about $25,000 in overtime pay for some workers who are required to work that day, Parrish told council members Tuesday.

The Juneteenth holiday discussion came in the final hour of a more than five-hour meeting and a variety of council members expressed their support before voting unanimously to approve the addition.

Mayor Nancy Vaughan complimented city staff on their work to commemorate this year's Juneteenth virtually.

"Next year I know we'll be able to do it in person," she said. "And I think that this will be a nice way of allowing our employees to celebrate as well. I think we've got a lot to learn and this will be a good way to do it."

Greensboro's workers already get days off surrounding nine holidays, including extra days off for Christmas and Thanksgiving.

Hightower said in proposing the motion, "we have a long way to go in eradicating discrimination and racism. I think if we celebrate Juneteenth, it gives us an opportunity to have those discussions among each other as city employees and begin to educate one another about our disparities we face."

Contact Richard M. Barron at 336-373-7371 and follow @BarronBizNR on Twitter.

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