South Dakota Is the Last State That Doesn't Have a Law Officially Recognizing Juneteenth as a Holiday

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KEYSTONE, SD - OCTOBER 01: A tourist takes a picture of Mount Rushmore National Memorial from outside the park on October 1, 2013 in Keystone, South Dakota.
KEYSTONE, SD - OCTOBER 01: A tourist takes a picture of Mount Rushmore National Memorial from outside the park on October 1, 2013 in Keystone, South Dakota.

Happy Juneteenth, y’all. While 49 states and–as of Thursday–the federal government now recognize today as an annual holiday or day of observance in an official capacity, there’s still one holdout in that regard: South Dakota.

Lawmakers in the Mount Rushmore State are working to change that.

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From The Hill:

South Dakota ... does not recognize Juneteenth as either a state holiday or day of observance. And even there, legislators are pushing to add the holiday to the state’s list of formally recognized celebrations.

“We should all be able to celebrate the end of slavery,” said state Sen. Reynold Nesiba (D), who introduced one of two bills to honor the holiday this year. “South Dakota is the only state in the Union that happens to have a 60-foot statue of the Great Emancipator carved into the side of a mountain, so I think South Dakota is a great place to celebrate Juneteenth.”

To clarify, this doesn’t mean that the state has completely ignored the existence of Juneteenth. Gov. Kristi Noem took a break from trying to start Twitter beef with Vice President Kamala Harris and issued a proclamation on Thursday, announcing that in response to The White House making Juneteenth a national holiday, South Dakota state employees would get Friday off and today would be celebrated as “Juneteenth Day” throughout the state.

What it does mean, however, is that there is no state legislature that has been signed to officially recognize Juneteenth in South Dakota beyond 2021. The Argus Leader points out that Noem’s proclamation doesn’t mention anything about whether state employees will get next year’s Juneteenth off.

According to The Hill, the South Dakota state Senate had an opportunity to pass a bill that would honor Juneteenth as a state holiday earlier this year, but it stalled in the state’s House of Representatives.

That bill was sponsored by Republican Sen. Jim Bolin, who said this to The Hill:

“I was very disappointed when my bill didn’t pass this last time,” Bolin, a retired history teacher, said in an interview Wednesday. “I just thought that, after the tragedy of George Floyd at the end of May of last year, I didn’t want South Dakota to be the last state to [honor the holiday]. Now it’s going to work out that way.”

Bolin’s measure would have made Juneteenth a so-called working holiday, one that did not grant workers a day off. Nesiba, one of six senators who voted against Bolin’s bill, introduced a version that would have granted the day off.

The last state to officially sign legislation that recognizes Juneteenth was Hawaii, and that happened just a few days ago.

To go off of Bolin’s sentiment, it definitely doesn’t feel great to be the last to do anything. But also, being fair to South Dakota, passing laws like this always take a lot longer than you might think they would due to routine opposition.

Shoot, it took Arizona years to recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a state holiday because of lawmakers like state senator and father of Meghan, John McCain–who said he initially voted against the measure in part because it would “cost too much money.”

But, both Bolin and Nesiba are confident that South Dakota will join the other 49 states in officially recognizing Juneteenth in due time, especially now that it’s a federal holiday. We’ll see how it goes.