Juneteenth holiday sparks activism in NYC, across nation

Tribune Content Agency

NEW YORK — New York’s newest holiday was a showcase of speakers and marchers who rallied Friday to commemorate the Juneteenth slavery abolition celebration, and set the tone for the city and national push for racial justice.

Activists crowded Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza chanting slogans and holding signs filled with hope and promise for brighter days after a dark month of police brutality and social upheaval.

Days after Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared June 19 a New York holiday this year in recognition of the Juneteenth commemoration, organizers hit the streets vowing to move forward and cash in on the momentum generated by protests from coast to coast.

“We cannot let up,” said Sharon Lee, the acting Queens Borough President.

“It’s been working. It is working,” Lee said of the protests that broke out across the country over police shootings of black people.

Lee said the drive for justice has to continue. “As the Queens Borough president and as an American of Asian descent, Juneteenth is an Independence Day,” she said. “I know that all lives won’t matter until black lives matter. Because what this is about is about systemic racism.”

In Tulsa, Oklahoma, where white mobs massacred a black community in 1921, protesters spent Junteenth preparing to sound off against supporters of President Donald Trump, who was scheduled to speak there Saturday at a campaign rally. The Rev. Al Sharpton was scheduled to speak at a Juneteenth event in Tulsa on Friday.

In Atlanta, thousands of people filled Centennial Olympic Park for a gospel festival, carrying Black Lives Matter signs or wearing T-shirts that said “I Can’t Breathe,” Floyd’s last words.

Events also were held in Minneapolis, Ohio, Maryland and other states.

In New York City, demonstrators joined community activists and elected officials including Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, city Comptroller Scott Stringer and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams to demand police reform weeks after the death of George Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis cop pressed his knee into the handcuffed man’s neck for nearly nine minutes during a Memorial Day arrest that was caught on camera.

They also called for justice in the case of Rayshard Brooks, who was fatally shot in the back by an Atlanta cop as he ran away in a fast food parking lot, where he had been sleeping in his car.

Brooks had wrestled a Taser away from one of the officers and appeared to turn and point it when he was shot.

The impact of their deaths was not lost even on the youngest of march participants.

“I’m angry because I’m being told all lives matter,” a 10-year-old boy named Prince told the Brooklyn crowd. “But how, when all I see is my people being killed in the streets. I want to stand tall like the king I was intended to be.”

The Brooklyn rally was one of many events organized throughout the country to celebrate Juneteenth, which marks the day, June 19, 1865, when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to take control of the state and ensure that all enslaved people were freed.

An official handwritten record of the handwritten original Juneteenth emancipation announcement is preserved at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC.

“The people of the state of Texas are informed that in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, ‘all slaves are free,.’” says the notice signed by Maj. F.W. Emery on behalf of Union Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger on June 19, 1865 — two months after President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.

“This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor,” the notice says.

The holiday is getting renewed attention as the nation reels from angry protests and senseless killings that have shined the spotlight on social justice.

Cuomo made Juneteenth a holiday this year for state employees and said he will push the Legislature to pass a measure recognizing the annual celebration going forward.

Mayor Bill de Blasio followed suit, saying that city recognition of the holiday will go into effect next year.

“One thing that is profoundly clear in the history of African people in this county is that through the pain and struggle came an extraordinary purposefulness and vision,” the mayor said.

But some city leaders were not impressed with the mayor’s action, saying he moved too slowly.

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams said his office is was closed on Friday in observance of Juneteenth.

“I’m sad that the mayor didn’t see fit to follow suit to make Juneteenth a holiday this year,” Williams said. “Why are you waiting until next year? He always seems to be a dollar short and a day late.”

Modern-day Juneteenth celebrations have generally centered around picnics and parades, and forums on self-improvement and education.

But the celebration has been reborn this year as a day of protest.

In Manhattan, nurses and first responders took a knee in solidarity outside Lenox Hill Hospital.

“I’m a registered professional nurse, on the front lines fighting multiple pandemics,” said Sheree-Ann Shepherd, an executive board member of the New York Professional Nurses Union.

“Systemic racism still very much exists in all aspects of our lives. People of color, especially black American patients, are dying of COVID at twice the rate, and in some states, three times the rate, of white patients,” Shepherd said. “Together, we in this hospital have fought a pandemic, and together we will fight the pandemic out here.”

In Lower Manhattan, protesters kneeled in Foley Square for eight minutes and 46 seconds, to mark the length of time that fired cop Derek Chauvin had his knee on Floyd’s neck. Then they marched under a bright sun through Tribeca toward Washington Square Park, where volunteers handed out water bottles sunscreen and snacks.

Bria Grant, 27, of Brooklyn, said she was glad for a relevant holiday to celebrate.

“For me, being an African American woman, it almost seems like the Fourth of July isn’t for me,” said Grant, as she clutched a red, black and green. pan-African flag and explained the meaning of the colors: red for the blood of her ancestors, black for her blackness and green for the richness of the African continent.

“But for Juneteenth — the meaning behind it, the fact that the day they were freed, people celebrated and had a party — is kind of impactful for me. It’s a beautiful day to celebrate my ancestors and my blackness.”


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