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West Hartford Town Council Votes to Officially Recognize Juneteenth Independence Day

Town Council member Carol Blanks speaks at West Hartford's Juneteenth commemoration. June 19, 2020. Photo credit: Ted Glanzer (we-ha.com file photo)

The West Hartford Town Council unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday night declaring that June 19 will be celebrated each year as Juneteenth Independence Day.

Crowd at West Hartford Juneteenth commemoration. June 19, 2020. Photo credit: Ted Glanzer (we-ha.com file photo)

By Ronni Newton

The Town of West Hartford held its first commemoration of Juneteenth on June 19, 2020, and Mayor Shari Cantor said at that celebration it would be just the start of an ongoing tradition.

Cantor, and the rest of the Town Council, took steps in that direction during the Nov. 24 meeting by unanimously adopting a resolution to ensure that Juneteenth Independence Day – a date that has come to be synonymous with the end of African slavery in the United States – will be celebrated and commemorated every year going forward.

Cantor said Tuesday night that when residents, led by Adrienne Billings-Smith, founder of Concerned Parents of Color of West Hartford and now a member of the Human Rights Commission, came forward in the spring to ask what the town planned to do for Juneteenth, nothing had been planned. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and the backdrop of Black Lives Matter rallies, the June 19, 2020, event held on Goodman Green served as a commemoration, a history lesson, and perhaps most importantly the beginning of what will become an annual event.

“The Town Manager shall consult with community stakeholders – including but not limited to scholars, historians, and civil rights leaders – in order to develop activities and events to commemorate and celebrate Juneteenth Independence Day,” the resolution states.

Cantor said Tuesday that the town will support celebration of the holiday – which is as important as any holiday in American history.

Tuesday was Councilor Carol Blanks’s birthday. “What a beautiful birthday gift,” she said of the resolution declaring June 19th as Juneteenth Independence Day in West Hartford. She said it has been a long time coming and she will always remember that it was done on her birthday.

“Freedom is not free until all human beings, especially African Americans, are able to enjoy the benefits of freedom without fear. We must acknowledge our past, we must teach the entire story, and we must embrace our future together,” Blanks said.

Council member Chris Williams said marking Juneteenth “reflects the exceptionalism” in the country’s founding documents.

“It is important to observe Juneteenth because it’s a holiday which celebrates freedom, human dignity and the closure of a horrific chapter in American history, while reminding us of the darkness that can occur when our inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are not recognized by our government,” Williams said.

The resolution notes that in 1776, the West Division’s Lemuel Haynes in his essay “Liberty Further Extended: or Free Thoughts on the Illegality of Slave-keeping,” proclaimed “That an African … may Justly Challenge, and has an undeniable right to his liberty.”

Haynes was a significant patriot in West Hartford’s history, Minority Leader Lee Gold said.

“It is important to remember our country’s history, both good and bad. Juneteenth is an appropriate and significant step in doing just that. It helps our West Hartford citizens embrace a future of peace and equality.”

On June 19, 1865, more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, federal troops arrived in Galveston, TX, and declared that all enslaved people were free. Texas was the last state to allow slavery.

Other cities and towns across the country have also taken steps to mark the anniversary of that date, June 19, as Juneteenth Independence Day.

“Juneteenth Independence Day will give our community an opportunity to learn, to share, and to be inspired by the historical events of the day that changed our nation forever,” Cantor said. “I am so happy the Town Council collectively supported this resolution,” she said following the unanimous approval.

The entire resolution is provided as a PDF below.

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