Mayor Bill de Blasio announced this morning that Juneteenth will become an official city holiday and an official city school's holiday starting next year. Juneteenth marks June 19th, 1865, the date a group of enslaved people in Galveston, Texas learned that they were free nearly three years after the Emancipation Proclamation passed. “It’s a celebration of a liberation that never really came. The fact is it’s also a day of reckoning,” de Blasio said.

"Our city has long prided itself as being a beacon, and in many ways we are to the world," the mayor said during his daily press conference on Friday. "But our city also has a very painful history: slavery was alive and well in New York City for a long time. New York City gained much of its prominence and wealth from slavery. Redlining, discrimination of every form existed here in liberal, progressive New York City for generations. In too many ways, discrimination is alive and well today. Structural racism pervades this city in ways that are still not acknowledged or recognized, and we need to change that."

Mayor de Blasio said that Juneteenth should become a moment for "truth telling, a day for examination and shining a light. It's a holiday in fact that million and millions of Americans don't know exists. But now as it comes to the fore, it's perfect for change, for transformation."

NYC Mayor's Office

Earlier this week, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that Juneteenth would be recognized as a holiday for state employees, and he will make it an official state holiday next year.

In addition, de Blasio announced that first lady Chirlane McCray will co-lead a new racial justice and reconciliation commission. (She also leads a racial inequality task force.) They will identify policy areas where discrimination exists in the city, in housing, criminal justice, environmental justice, and education.

They will also consider things like whether to remove the Thomas Jefferson and George Washington statues from City Hall, or rename Gracie Mansion. This comes after several City Council members have urged de Blasio to remove that Jefferson statue, in particular.

"This is exactly the kind of thing that this new commission needs to examine," de Blasio said in response to a question about the Jefferson statue. "I think it is a time to evaluate the entire look and feel of this city."

De Blasio was also asked about how far the renaming initiative might go: "I think the point is that in many nations and societies, people have had to reexamine their history and their symbols, and I think it's the right time for us to do it now," he said. "I don't have a foregone conclusion as to what names will be kept, what names will be changed, when there will be context given to a name, but I think this commission is the right way to do it—because this is the first time any city or state in America will actually examine our truth."

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams commended de Blasio for marking the day: "Today, I am so proud that the city where I was born and raised, home to America’s largest Black population, has declared that Juneteenth will be an official government and school holiday going forward," he said in a statement. "I thank Mayor de Blasio for hearing our call on this most significant commemoration, one that I hope sparks collective remembrance of our struggle and renewed fight on our journey to eradicating inequality and injustice in this city and this nation."

Jamelle Bouie wrote about the significance of Juneteenth for the NY Times today, noting that while it marks just one moment in the struggle for emancipation, "the holiday gives us an occasion to reflect on the profound contributions of enslaved black Americans to the cause of human freedom. It gives us another way to recognize the central place of slavery and its demise in our national story."