Juneteenth Holiday Observed In Springfield
The newest federal and Massachusetts state holiday was celebrated today in Springfield.
Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery in America, was observed in front of City Hall with speeches, a mayoral proclamation, 54th Regiment Civil War reenactors, and the raising of a Black Lives Matter flag.
About 100 people attended the event that was co-hosted by Springfield City Councilors Trayce Whitfield and Justin Hurst, who are both members of the Juneteenth Jubilee Committee.
"This has been a long time coming," Hurst said. "The fact that Juneteenth is now a federal holiday is long overdue."
June 19th, or Juneteenth, marks the day in 1865 when Union Soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas and announced the Civil War had ended and all enslaved people were free.
It became a state holiday in Massachusetts after Gov. Charlie Baker last summer signed a COVID-19 relief bill that included a Juneteenth amendment sponsored by State Representative Bud Williams of Springfield.
"If there is no George Floyd moment, we're not standing here," Williams said. "If there is no George Floyd moment, it wouldn't pass."
Because June 19th falls on a Saturday this year, the holiday for government workers is Friday.
Just this week, Congress passed legislation creating the Juneteenth federal holiday and President Biden signed it Thursday.
Massachusetts Congressman Richard Neal noted the holiday was approved in a rare show of bipartisanship – the Senate vote was unanimous and there 14 “no” votes in the House.
"I was happy to cast my vote this week to celebrate this national holiday, but also to point out that our work is not done and the next step in Congress is to embrace The John Lewis Act," Neal said.
Whitfield, who sponsored the order passed by the City Council and signed by Mayor Domenic Sarno earlier this month to make Juneteenth a municipal holiday, said she hopes more people will become aware of what the day signifies.
"It is not taught in schools and is not widely known in a lot of communities, so I hope if we keep having these celebrations and now that it is a national holiday, people will become more aware of what Juneteenth is about," Whitfield said.
The Jubilee Committee has organized a festival that begins Friday night in Blunt Park with a vendor fair and a movie night with the screening of “Remember the Titans.”
On Saturday, from 4 p.m.-7 p.m. in Court Square there will be musical performances, free food from Black-owned restaurants, underground railroad walking tours, and a COVID-19 vaccination clinic.
"I want folks to come out and celebrate with us," Whitfield said.
Also on Saturday, the Brethren Community Foundation is holding its annual Juneteenth Celebration at the Raymond Jordan Senior Center. Arise for Social Justice will host their 11th annual Juneteenth event Saturday in Barrows Park.