Kansas state employees under Gov. Laura Kelly get holiday with observation of Juneteenth

Juneteenth will be a new state holiday with a paid day off for state employees under Gov. Laura Kelly’s administration.

The governor made the announcement on Tuesday, making Kansas the 29th state to recognize Juneteenth as an official government holiday.

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

Gov. Laura Kelly, seen here signing a Juneteenth proclamation for the 2022 celebration, has made Juneteenth a holiday for state employees under her administration.

The holiday commemorates the day — June 19, 1965 — that the last enslaved Americans received word of the Emancipation Proclamation and the abolition of slavery.

“I am thrilled that Juneteenth will be a state holiday,” said Stacey Knoell, executive director of the Kansas African American Affairs Commission, in the governor’s news release. “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.”

Juneteenth became a federal holiday in 2021 — the first new federal holiday since the recognition of Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983. Nebraska, Missouri and Colorado are among the 28 other states plus Washington, D.C. that recognize Juneteenth as an official holiday.

Kelly has recognized the holiday since 2020 by issuing proclamations, but it wasn’t a formal public holiday, meaning state employees didn’t get the day off. Some Democratic lawmakers have tried to change that, but made little progress in the Legislature.

Adding the holiday is costly. The fiscal note on a Senate bill that never got a hearing showed it would cost the state about $752,500 in additional compensation for employees required to work the holiday. The cost will likely be lower because Kelly’s action makes the holiday applicable only to executive branch employees under the governor’s jurisdiction.

Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita, was one of the sponsors of that bill. She found out about the governor’s action while in a committee meeting at the Statehouse.

“It’s going to make a lot of Kansans feel that they matter and that they are appreciated and that we are moving forward with the acknowledgement of Juneteenth holiday, even if it’s for just state employees now, but that’s a step forward,” she said.

Speaking after the meeting near the Brown v. Board of Education mural, Faust-Goudeau said the holiday is more than just a day off work.

“As we stand here right now and we look at the mural … many times we will, even like Christmas or Thanksgiving, sometimes we forget the original purpose, the reason for that season, we forget that,” she said. “And so a Juneteenth celebration, for me even, being an African-American woman and standing here in the halls of the state Capitol as a state senator, I wouldn’t be here had it not been for the efforts of those who made Juneteenth possible.

“That is freedom. That is inclusiveness. That is justice for all. That’s equal rights. That’s showing that all of us matter and that Juneteenth holiday is what people fought for. Dr. Martin Luther King and others fought for that day, ending of slavery and celebration, and so for me it’s just wonderful.”

Jason Alatidd is a statehouse reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal. He can be reached by email at jalatidd@gannett.com. Follow him on X @Jason_Alatidd.

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