The nation is poised to celebrate Juneteenth as a federal holiday. Communities in the region have been planning local commemorations. Both Plattsburgh and Burlington will hold their first Juneteenth celebrations on Saturday.
The Emancipation Proclamation freed enslaved people on January 1st, 1863. But not all of them knew about their freedom until years later. Burlington Director of Racial Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Tyeastia Green explains the significance of Juneteenth. “Juneteenth is what we call in Black spaces Freedom Day. Basically when emancipation happened for most slaves, the enslaved in Texas didn’t get the message until the Army came in and let them know that they were freed. So Juneteenth represents the last remaining enslaved people to be released from bondage two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation.”
Green, who is coordinating Burlington’s first Juneteenth, says she has observed it since she was a child. But when she moved to Vermont she discovered there had never been a state or citywide Juneteenth celebration. “Vermont is incredibly late to the game and that’s why I’m going to try to make this the best Juneteenth celebration that I’ve ever been to! And you know it typically doesn’t last all day. This celebration is lasting from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. at night. And I know why I’m doing it that way. Because I feel like Vermont has missed out on Juneteenth celebrations past so I tried to play catch up all in this one day. And we have to encourage spaces of belonging within the city so people feel like they belong here not that they’re just here. But there are things that they can see themselves reflected in the city to which they belong. And I think Juneteenth is one of the ways, one of the many ways, to do that. But it is the first big event that we’re going to have to try to achieve that.”
Across Lake Champlain, Plattsburgh has planned a more subdued commemoration, mostly because it was not known if any COVID-19 restrictions would still be in place. The city’s first Juneteenth will be held Saturday morning from 9 until 10 in Trinity Park adjacent to City Hall. The Juneteenth flag will also be raised on the local campus and area buildings. North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association President Jackie Madison says events of the past year have fostered interest in equity issues. “Some of this, and this is really me, has to do with what occurred last year with the Black Lives Matter and the George Floyd and other deaths that had occurred. And actually I think some people just were not aware of what was going on in the Black community until they saw it with George Floyd. And I think it was a little shocking to people. And I think there is this keen interest to learn more about African Americans and their lives in the U.S.”