NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Gov. Bill Lee announced Thursday that he will sign a proclamation recognizing Juneteenth, the cultural holiday commemorating the emancipation of enslaved black people in the United States.
Lee said the proclamation will be signed Friday, June 19. However, the Republican stopped short of saying whether Juneteenth should be a state holiday or enshrined in state law for special observance as other states have done.
"We are in a transformative time and I believe that our state can be a force for restoration during this time," Lee told reporters.
Currently, state law designates a handful of days for special observance: Robert E. Lee Day (January 19), Abraham Lincoln Day (February 12), Andrew Jackson Day (March 15), Confederate Decoration Day (June 3), Nathan Bedford Forrest Day (July 13) and Veterans' Day (November 11).
Earlier this month, lawmakers advanced legislation that would remove requiring governors to issue such proclamations after Lee expressed discomfort of signing a proclamation recognizing Nathan Bedford Forrest, a former Confederate general and Ku Klux Klan leader.
Lee also promised that he would soon appoint members to the state's Capitol Commission in order for the panel to address whether to remove a bust of Forrest displayed prominently between the Senate and House chambers.
The GOP-dominant Statehouse has repeatedly resisted calls to remove the bust. Lee has said more context was needed, but has declined to weigh in if he agrees the bust should be taken out of the Capitol.
"Symbols matters. Proclamations and statues are not just snapshots of our history, they are a window into what we value," Lee said.
Juneteenth marks the day on June 19, 1865, that Union soldiers told enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Texas, that the Civil War had ended and they were free. The Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves in the South in 1863 but it was not enforced in many places until after the end of the Civil War in 1865.
The day is recognized in 47 states and the District of Columbia, according to the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation. Hawaii, North Dakota and South Dakota are the only states without an official recognition.