Coming in the middle of a national conversation about race, today is Juneteenth, commemorating the day enslaved people in Texas learned they were free in 1865. A number of state and local celebrations are marking the day.
This week, Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo declared Juneteenth a holiday for state workers. He vowed he’ll work to make it a state holiday for 2021.
Troy Mayor Patrick Madden, also a Democrat, signed a proclamation encouraging city residents to commemorate the day.
"Riverfront Park, 6 o'clock on Friday. It will be a celebration with some music, some prayers, some food, and just an opportunity to get together and celebrate."
Democrats Albany County Executive Dan McCoy and Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan declared Juneteenth a county and city holiday, saying employees will be granted a floating holiday. Here's McCoy:
"I commend the governor for making it a state holiday and I urge Congress and the president to step up and due the same. I've been in constant contact with Albany County legislator Bill Clay, chair of the Albany County Legislative Caucus. He could not be here today but he shared this comment with us: 'June 19th has been an important day that African Americans have celebrated for 155 years. It’s a day that celebrates our freedom; freedom that the Founding Fathers of this country have celebrated on July 4th for over 240 years. Declaring Juneteenth as a holiday in Albany County has been a long time in coming.'"
Sheehan issued a statement with her executive order, saying she "will continue to make diversity and inclusion a priority in the City of Albany, and to fight for reforms in local, state and federal laws that end structural racism."
First-term Hudson Mayor Kamal Johnson, also a Democrat, issued a similar proclamation. "There'll be different little initiatives going on throughout the city about awareness and education. I'm very excited about this."
Some employers gave employees the day off ahead of the curve: Michele Villeri of Schenectady works for Sunrun Solar:
"I found out Monday that they were celebrating June 19th, and to me, it's so wonderful to see the change that's slowly happening in the world. It's a good time for reflection and remembrance. And seeing, unfortuantely with all of these that are happening of late, to see a lot of companies come out and say 'we understand, we acknowledge,’ and seeing that they want to improve. It's gonna take a bit and it's gonna take some understanding, but they're willing to do it and that makes me so happy about that."
Jermaine Wells with Hamilton Hill Arts says Schenectady will celebrate Juneteenth online.
"Juneteenth will be happening June 20th, virtually. This is the 20th year that Hamilton Hill Arts Center has been doing Juneteenth. So we had to put this together really quickly. You can watch the stream live starfting at 1 p.m., at HamiltonHillArtsCenter.org, the Hamilton Hill Arts Center facebook page, and the Schenectady Public Access Station, which is Open Stage Media. They have channels on Verizon Fios, channels 37, 38. And they have channels on Spectrum Cable, which is 1302 and 1303."
Wells will host the program and invites everyone to tune in.
Juneteenth is already a state holiday in Texas. Governor Charlie Baker signed a proclamation declaring today “Juneteenth Independence Day” in Massachusetts.
Lark Hall’s latest “Window Sessions” will feature Victory Soul Orchestra and Jordan Taylor Hill & Friends in a fundraiser performance centered around uplifting black voices and bringing awareness to social justice causes. The Juneteenth performance will be streamed on Lark Hall’s Facebook live this Friday, June 19. Donations will be collected for Capital Region organizations who aid communities of color.