Over the weekend, Pharrell used his platform to contact Virginia Governor Ralph Northam and lobby to give all Virginians a day off from work on Juneteenth, recognizing the historic day as a paid state holiday. Earlier today, (Tuesday, June 16, 2020) the 11-time GRAMMY Award-winning musician gave a moving speech to announce the decision in which Virginia, once the capital of the Confederacy, would pave the way for other states to follow.
“This is a very special moment. This is a big display of progress and I’m grateful for Virginia and us leading the way,” Pharrell said to open his speech. “From this moment on, when you look at the vastness of the night sky and you see those stars moving up there, know that those stars are our African ancestors dancing in celebration because their lives are finally being acknowledged. And I can’t say it too many times today… a paid holiday. It’s not the end of it, it’s merely just the beginning. Their lives matter. Their descendants’ lives matter. Black Lives Matter in the eyes of the Commonwealth. I can’t say that it always has but finally we recognize that Black lives absolutely matter. And that’s not political. They’re lives. They’re human beings.”
Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, and Cel-Liberation Day, was first considered a state holiday by Texas beginning in 1980. Celebrated annually on June 19, commemorates Union general Gordon Granger reading federal orders in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865, declaring that all previously enslaved people in Texas were free. Even though the Emancipation Proclamation officially freed former slaves some two and a half years earlier, Texas’s standing as the most remote of the slave states made it possible for the region to ignore the ruling.
Pharrell has been a vocal supporter of the current nationwide protests and has made it known through a number of recent interviews. He talked about the importance of mental health in the Black community and his influence as a Black brand owner with Bobby Hundreds. He was interviewed by longtime friend and collaborator Kanye West in i-D‘s “The Faith In Chaos” Summer 2020 issue. The two talked about the coronavirus pandemic and the importance of Black culture.
“Virginia is where ships filled with kidnapped and enslaved Africans first landed on these shores over 400 years ago. 401 years to be exact. That’s right, not far from here my ancestors arrived on ships. I’ve done my Finding Your Roots episode and yes, all of my ancestors were enslaved,” Pharrell continued to highlight Virginia’s growth over the centuries. “They sacrificed their lives so that I can stand here today and use my voice. Over the weekend I called the Governor and talked to him about what’s happening today. This being a paid holiday — it’s time. I told him we can do better. This is what listening looks like. It makes sense that Virginia officially recognizes this holiday in an official way and that’s because it’s been overlooked for so long.”
Earlier this month, Pharrell contributed a standout verse on Run The Jewels‘ politically charged new album RTJ4. He joined Killer Mike, El-P and Zack De La Rocha on “JU$T” to call out systemic racism out in the open through economics. “Mastered academics ’cause your grades say you a scholar/ Mastered Instagram ’cause you can instigate a follow/ Look at all these slave masters posin’ on yo’ dollar,” he rapped during the chorus.
“This is our chance in Virginia to lead by example. This is our chance to truly embrace the importance of Juneteenth and treat it as a celebration of freedom that Black people deserve and that the African diaspora deserves,” Pharrell continued. “This is about proper recognition, it’s about observation and it’s about celebration. This is a chance for our government, our corporations and our citizens to all stand in solidarity with our African American brothers and sisters. This year, Juneteenth will look like no other Juneteenth before it.”
Pharrell continued to call for other states to follow. Watch the full speech above. In more music updates, Beyoncé penned a letter to Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron demanding justice for Breonna Taylor.