Communities across the Twin Cities are adding Juneteenth to the holiday calendar, organizing celebrations and planning a day off for the new federal observance commemorating the emancipation of enslaved African Americans after the Civil War.

This is the first year that St. Paul, Ramsey County and Minneapolis and St. Paul public schools are all recognizing Juneteenth as an official holiday, giving workers a paid day off and closing their offices Monday. They join Minneapolis and Hennepin County, which declared Juneteenth a paid holiday in 2021.

"The end of the brutal institution of American slavery was not a victory that African Americans should solely celebrate. It was a moral victory for the soul of our entire country," St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter said. "That's why it is appropriate to be a paid city holiday and a paid federal holiday."

President Joe Biden signed legislation in June 2021 making Juneteenth a federal holiday. The last time the federal government had designated a new national holiday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983.

But the federal designation of Juneteenth didn't result in automatic adoption in most states and cities, and state governments across the country have been slow to make it an official holiday. In Minnesota, local governments are making their own declarations, even as efforts by the Minnesota United Black Legislative Caucus to make the day a state holiday have so far failed at the Legislature.

Juneteenth is a longstanding tradition. The 2020 murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police and its aftermath nationwide highlighted the need for a sharper focus on equity, and elected leaders say recognizing Juneteenth is a step toward achieving that.

"I think Juneteenth is a way to commemorate the healing that still needs to occur, not only in the United States, but also, quite frankly, in our workplaces," said Patience Ferguson Minneapolis chief human resources officer. "Juneteenth is a way to begin to continue to reinforce the importance of having an equitable workforce that works for all people."

The Minneapolis Black Employee Network that wanted to recognize Juneteenth as a holiday approached city leaders with the proposal, which led to engagement with all employees and labor unions before the City Council and mayor approved it last May, Ferguson said.

It is a critical holiday not only for Black Americans but for Americans in general, said Ferguson, who hails from the south and has family in Texas where the holiday originates. She plans to spend her weekend with friends at Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church events.

"Coming from the South and being a child of the civil rights movement, this is very personal to me," Ferguson said. "It's one of those holidays that causes me to reflect and recognize that I — as a chief HR officer, first African American woman to ever hold this position — I stand on the shoulders of a lot of people. And I never want to forget that."

Prince Corbett, Ramsey County's racial and health equity administrator, said the county's Black employee resource group advocated for Juneteenth. County leaders agreed to make it a paid holiday in exchange for an existing floating holiday.

For employees, it's about recognizing the legacy, sacrifices and contributions African Americans have made to this country, including in the context of the brutal history of chattel slavery.

"I feel good it is happening," Corbett said. "It's a step in the right direction."

Hennepin County Commissioner Angela Conley co-authored the ordinance making Juneteenth a paid holiday in her county before it became a federal holiday. She said the new recognition comes at a critical national crossroads. While some organizations, including Hennepin County, have declared racism a public health crisis and committed to repairing the harms of institutional and systemic racism, others are intent on burying that history.

"Some people are actively fighting against teaching the history of racism in our schools," Conley said. "It is important that we take the time to reflect on our history. Every person in the county should stop and reflect on what this day means."

Juneteenth commemorates the day federal troops marched into Galveston, Texas, and Union Army General Gordon Granger proclaimed all enslaved people in the state free — more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

Even though Minnesota was free territory that sent thousands to fight for the Union during the Civil War, enslaved people, brought by military officers, were held at Fort Snelling — including Dred Scott, who later famously sued for his freedom.

"On many levels, it's a recognition of trauma more than it's a festive celebration," Carter said. "That said, there is a triumphant note to it as well, because that day did mark a deliverance from one of the most horrifying, evil and brutal institutions in the history of humanity."

Marvin Anderson, co-founder of the Rondo Center of Diverse Expression and Rondo Days in St. Paul, said Juneteenth draws on a complicated well of emotion. His organization held a lively event with food, music, speakers and performances at Rondo Commemorative Plaza on Sunday.

Juneteenth embodies joy and jubilation, but it also forces all Americans to acknowledge the "harsh truth" about the founding of this country, Anderson said.

"It's a tough, tough story. We have to keep this story going, and we have to fight through the bitterness," he said. "The harsh truth about America will become known, which in the long run will bring about healing. That is healthier than keeping it buried."