State lawmakers want to invest $1.6 million into Juneteenth Day programming 

Naoka Foreman
Naoka Foreman

Nevadans could see state-backed Juneteenth Day programming, events and entertainment across the state to celebrate the day that all people in the U.S. allegedly became free.

Juneteenth marks the historic moment that the last recorded enslaved Africans were freed by soldiers in Galveston, Texas, two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. The newly recognized national holiday acknowledges the more than 250 years of enslavement endured by generations of Black families.

AB409, sponsored by Assemblywoman Claire Thomas (D-North Las Vegas), seeks to establish the Juneteenth Education and Economic Commission within the Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs as well as create a fund within the treasurer’s office to support endeavors that spread awareness about the holiday and African American history. 

“This is one of those bills that’s really a twofer for us,” said Assemblywoman Leslie Cohen (D-Las Vegas) at an Assembly Revenue Committee hearing earlier this month. “It’s really important for us to learn our American history and bring tourism into the state.”

The policy passed out of its first committee last week, with three Republicans voting in opposition.

Assemblyman P.K. O’Neill (R-Carson City) said endeavors that seek to further educate people about U.S. enslavement of Black people coming to an end are “redundant, repetitive and unnecessary.” 

“Assemblyman Harvey Munford brought almost the identical bill in 2011 and we passed it, making Juneteenth a day of recognition, requiring the education and promotion of the incident,” he said. 

Assemblywoman Danielle Gallant (R-Henderson) and Assemblyman Ken Gray (R-Lyon County) joined him in voting no.

The commission would be authorized to create and distribute marketing materials about the historic meaning of Juneteenth Day and develop partnerships with businesses, nonprofits and community groups to educate the public about the significance of Juneteenth Day.

The Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs estimates that programming could cost nearly $1.6 million for the biennium. Commissioners, who would be appointed by the governor, could earn $6,600 a year for participating.

The Juneteenth Educational and Economic Commission would be composed of eight voting members:

  • One member from the African American studies department or similar cultural studies program at UNLV; 
  • One member from the African American studies department or similar cultural studies program at UNR; 
  • One member from the African American studies department or similar cultural studies  program at Nevada State College;
  • One representative of Juneteenth Nevada or any successor nonprofit organization in  this state whose mission focused on Juneteenth Day education, unity and diversity;
  • One member who represents a professional association representing African American businesses;
  • One member who represents an African American cultural awareness advocacy group;
  • One member who represents an educational advocacy group with a statewide presence, and
  • One member who represents a cultural history organization in Nevada.

The bill was amended so that the commission would include one representative from the office of the governor and adding Assemblywoman Erica Mosca (D-Las Vegas) as a primary sponsor.

Thomas also sponsored a measure this session that would make Juneteenth a legal state-paid holiday in Nevada. The bill passed out of the Assembly Government Affairs Committee in March.

This story was updated at 10 A.M. on April 24, 2023, to reflect that not all enslaved persons were freed on June 19, 1865.


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