June 12, 2020

For immediate release: Friday, June 12, 2020

Contact: Julie Sullivan-Springhetti, Julie.Sullivan-Springhetti@multco.us, 503-402-2741

Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury makes Juneteenth a paid County holiday 

Saying we are in a moment of reckoning for our country’s systemic oppression of Black people, Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury today made Juneteenth an annual paid holiday for all County employees.

Juneteenth, a blending of the words “June” and “nineteenth,” marks the day in 1865 that news of the abolition of slavery reached the westernmost slave state of Texas — two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation declaring that enslaved people within the rebellious states "are, and henceforward shall be free.’’

Although Juneteenth has been regularly celebrated by Multnomah County employees and community members as a day of commemoration, education and achievement, the Chair’s designation places the day of observance alongside Independence Day, Memorial Day and Presidents’ Day in significance and impact.

“We have a profound responsibility at the County to acknowledge that the structural inequities in our community and country are rooted in the original enslavement of Black people,’’ said Chair Kafoury. “Observing the day of Black liberation honors the historic and current struggle, acknowledges the strength of our Black neighbors, friends and family, and reminds us of the hard and necessary work we must continue to dismantle systems of oppression.’’

Chair Kafoury made the announcement in an email to more than 6,000 employees on behalf of the Board of County Commissioners, including Sharon Meieran, Susheela Jayapal, Jessica Vega Pederson and Lori Stegmann. 

“I know that declaring a holiday is just one small step in acknowledging the unique and difficult experience of Black employees,’’ Chair Kafoury said. “But I hope this day can used for respite and renewal.’’

She urged other staff to use the day not only for celebration, but as an opportunity to learn about Black history locally and nationally, to support Black writers, filmmakers and artists, patronize Black-owned businesses, and honor the accomplishments of Black colleagues. 

To learn more:

1619 Project New York Times

Black Resources Collection, Multnomah County Library (books, film, periodicals and music)

Black Pacific Northwest Collection, Multnomah County Library (fiction, nonfiction, youth and poetry)

50 Award Winning Works of Fiction by Black Authors

Directory of Portland Black-Owned Eateries

Mercatus PDX

African American Chamber

Racing to Change, Oregon’s Civil Rights Years, Oregon Historical Society