Juneteenth Now A Federal Holiday; Mail Delivery This Weekend, Special Events In Place
WASHINGTON, DC — President Joe Biden signed legislation Thursday establishing a new federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery, saying he believes it will go down as one of the greatest honors he has as president.
While it is now a federal holiday, the tight timeline between the president's signature being put to paper and the first national observance of the new legal holiday poses a challenge for those not prepared to honor its first appearance on the calendar. The United States Postal Service is unable to change course so quickly, it announced shortly after the law was enacted. Banks and other companies have been left to decide what to do this week, with many expecting formal observations to be in place by 2022.
Most non-essential federal employees have been given a paid holiday off, however, and most school systems have already concluded their 2020-21 academic year.
Biden signed into law a bill to make Juneteenth, or June 19, the 12th federal holiday. The House voted 415-14 on Wednesday to send the bill to Biden, while the Senate passed the bill unanimously the day before.
“This is a day of profound weight and profound power, a day in which we remember the moral stain, the terrible toll that slavery took on the country and continues to take,” Biden said.
Vice President Kamala Harris noted on Thursday that Juneteenth has been known by many names including Jubilee Day, Freedom Day, Liberation Day, and Emancipation Day.
“We are gathered here in a house built by enslaved people. We are footsteps away from where President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation," she said at the White House signing ceremony. "We have come far, and we have far to go. But today is a day of celebration. It is not only a day of pride. It's also a day for us to reaffirm and rededicate ourselves to action."
Governor Ned Lamont on Friday issued a statement that said while Juneteenth is a day marking the liberation of slaves two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by President Lincoln, “it also serves as a day to reflect upon the continued struggle for equal rights and opportunities for us all. Indeed we must also take the time to reflect upon the contributions African Americans have made to Connecticut and our country, and celebrate their rich heritage. I join in celebration and remembrance with those who are committed to reflecting upon our history and ensuring continued work towards equality and justice for everyone."
State officials this week raised a Juneteenth flag at the State Capitol to recognize the holiday.
Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers brought the news of freedom to enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas — two years after the Confederacy had surrendered. That was also about 2½ years after the Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in the Southern states.
While Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862 to free enslaved people in Confederate states, it was not until two and a half years later that many Black people still held in bondage in Texas were told that the order had freed them.
The isolation of Texas from the rest of the country and remote landscape kept Union soldiers from enforcing the message as quickly there as they had been able to elsewhere.
It was not until months later with the passage of the 13th Amendment that slavery was abolished on the federal level, not just in states that had aligned themselves with the Confederacy.
It is the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was created in 1983.
The White House moved quickly to hold the signing ceremony after the House debated the bill and then voted for it Wednesday.
The US Office of Personnel Management, which is the human resources office for the federal government, tweeted Thursday that most federal employees will observe the new holiday — Juneteenth National Independence Day — on Friday since June 19 falls on a Saturday this year.
Rep Carolyn Maloney (NY) said federal holidays are purposely few in number and recognize the most important milestones.
“I cannot think of a more important milestone to commemorate than the end of slavery in the United States,” Maloney further stated.
Most states already recognize Juneteenth as a holiday or have an official observance of the day, and most states hold celebrations. Juneteenth is a paid holiday for state employees in Texas, New York, Virginia, and Washington.
With the new federal holiday, most federal employees are receiving a paid day off today.
USPS Mail Delivery Continues This Weekend
The US Postal Service will deliver mail Friday and Saturday, however. It said it was not possible to cease operations on short notice.
In a June 17 memo to USPS executives, Deputy Postmaster General and Chief Human Resources Officer Douglas Tulino wrote that while the organization is “fully supportive of annually observing and setting aside a day to recognize this historic event,” it is not possible to cease operations to accommodate an observance within 24-48 hours.
“We are part of the nation’s critical infrastructure and our customers are relying on us to deliver our essential services. Closing down our operations without providing appropriate time would lead to operational disruptions and be a disservice to our customers and those who rely upon us. For that reason, the Postal Service will be operating on June 18 and 19, 2021, on a normal schedule, serving our customers to the best of our ability,” the statement added.
The Postal Service will discuss future recognition of the new holiday with its unions, management associations and other stakeholders, consistent with its collective bargaining and consultative obligations.
“Once those discussions take place, we will update you on appropriate developments, but we reiterate that we are fully supportive of this important national holiday,” Tulino wrote.
Connecticut Events Planned
Multiple cities and towns in Connecticut already had plans for Juneteenth events. Among those are the events below, listed by their start time.
20th Annual Juneteenth Celebration at New Britain Museum of American Art, 56 Lexington Street: 11 am-4 pm, with flag raising and Black National Anthem to be performed by Aleecya Foreman, also drumming, dance and poetry throughout the day, local food vendors, NMBAA art activities for children and families, community organizations and vendors, current COVID guidelines to be followed; 860-229-0257, email@example.com, nbmaa.org/events/juneteenth-celebration.
The 29th Annual Juneteenth Parade & Harambee Festival, Seaside Park, 1 Barnum Dyke in Bridgeport: 11 am-5 pm, with live entertainment featuring Sage & the City Shout Steel Pan Orchestra, an African-inspired fashion show, children’s art projects, meet-the-author book signings, ethnic food trucks, the New Creation Step Team, and urban farmers market, craft and other vendors, also COVID-19 screenings and vaccinations; 203-374-4989, JuneteenthofFFC@gmail.com.
Juneteenth Celebration at Craig’s Soul Food Kitchen, 13 West Main Street in Vernon: 11 am-8 pm, the restaurant will serve Southern-style food and a portion of all sales will support the Windham/Willimantic NAACP; windhamnaacp.org.
Juneteenth Nutrition and Fitness Jamboree, Seaside Park Dome, 1 Barnum Dyke in Bridgeport: 12-4 pm, workout classes including Zumba, core buster, high-intensity interval training, dance and more, also food from Kale Krazy, Discover Your Palate with Nate, and Green Soul Café, music provided by DJ Eazy; eventbrite.com.
Second Annual Juneteenth Celebration, Hamilton Park, 110 Hamilton Park Road in Waterbury: 12-7 pm, Waterbury Strong is hosting celebration with art, music, food, games, dancing and more, including performances by local artists, dance teams and drill teams, music also provided by Power203FM, and local black-owned businesses, restaurants and food trucks who will be on-site selling food and goods; facebook.com/events/hamilton-park/2nd-annual-juneteenth-celebration.
Empowering Connection on Juneteenth with Community Mindfulness Project, at The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, 258 Main Street in Ridgefield: 1-1:30 pm, series of “guided mindfulness and movement activities” that “tap into our shared humanity and can help us see, hear, and recognize our connection to those around us,” all ages welcome for outdoor event to be presented in museum’s Sculpture Garden with Education Assistant Lorena Sferlazza, registration requested; thealdrich.org.
Juneteenth Liberation Day Festival, Veterans Memorial Park, Newfield Street in Middletown: 1-6 pm, inaugural Juneteenth event by Middletown Ujima Alliance, the free event will include live music with food and goods available for purchase through vendors; facebook.com/MiddletownUjimaAlliance.
Celebrate Juneteenth at Mystic Seaport Museum, 75 Greenmanville Avenue: 3-5 pm, with an opening ceremony, panel discussion on “What is Juneteenth? A Brief History and its Present-Day Implications,” Harambee reflection, and tours of the Amistad; 860-572-0711, firstname.lastname@example.org, mysticseaport.org/events/celebrate-juneteenth/.
Juneteenth Celebration Concert at The SoNo Library, 10 Washington Street in Norwalk: 12-2:30 pm, free, to commence with reading of Juneteenth proclamation by Mayor Harry Rilling, then remarks by local officials, poetry readings, outdoor concert featuring Blues & Beyond performing songs with historical elements and American roots, like gospel, field hollers, soul and hip hop; norwalklib.org.
Final day of Juneteenth Art Exhibition “The Intersection of Community, Black Joy, Freedom, History, and Education,” at Noah Webster Library, 20 South Main Street in West Hartford: 10 am-1 pm, the library has been giving out free commemorative Juneteenth bookmarks during the presentation of the exhibition; 860-561-6950, westhartfordlibrary.org.
SATURDAY & SUNDAY
West Hartford Community Juneteenth Celebration, West Hartford Town Hall & Blue Black Square, 50 South Main Street in West Hartford: 10 am-3:30 pm, free admission, celebration will begin Saturday at 10 am Old Center Cemetery for Installment Ceremony of Witness Stones Project, continues at noon with music, games, performances and more, Juneteenth-themed box lunches, local restaurants also offering specials, unveiling on Saturday of MLK Jr mural (2:30 pm), special worship service (Sunday, 10 am, First Church of Christ Congregational, 12 South Main Street) inspired by 1812 sermon by Rev Nathan Perkins’s “Fast Sermon”; 860-967-3749, email@example.com, facebook.com/WHJuneteenthCelebration2021/
Associated Press content was used in the preparation of this story.
Associate Editor Shannon Hicks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.