Local community leaders applauded the official declaration of Juneteenth as a federal holiday this week.
At the same time, municipal officials in the area said they await official guidance from the state regarding how they should officially observe the June 19 holiday, which commemorates the day in 1865 when Union Army Major Gen. Gordon Granger and his troops arrived in Galveston, Texas with news the Civil War had ended and that the enslaved were now free.
On Friday afternoon, a day after President Joe Biden signed federal legislation formally declaring Juneteenth as a holiday, Gov. Ned Lamont issued a separate proclamation, in which he described June 19 as “an important day in our Nation.”
That proclamation stated there is unfinished work when it comes to addressing equity.
“The well-being of our multicultural democracy today and the future of the American experiment is dependent upon every citizen civically participating in society. But if every citizen doesn’t enjoy the same blessings of freedom and equal justice before the law, that isn’t possible. In Connecticut, we have worked in a bipartisan way to make investments that are designed to attempt to reverse the trends of the past and help to lift our communities. We must recognize as elected officials that our work is not finished and will likely never be finished when it comes to addressing equity, which makes it incumbent upon all of us to keep up the fight,” Lamont stated.
In Meriden, City Manager Timothy Coon said local officials were awaiting an official notification from the state regarding the holiday’s effective dates.
“It’s a great holiday. I’m glad it’s being recognized. But you’ve got to give us more than two days’ notice,” Coon said.
A question he had is when such a holiday occurs during the weekend should city offices be closed on a Friday or Monday.
Municipal offices in Meriden, Wallingford and other communities were open Friday.
Wallingford Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. said whether the holiday is a paid day off for city employees is a matter that will be subject to the collective bargaining process.
“Holidays are bargained for. Our holiday schedule is in the union contracts,” Dickinson said, noting there is a disparity between holidays recognized by the federal government and those followed in the town’s union contracts.
“We try to be respectful of everyone. We also have to respect the collective bargaining rules,” Dickinson said.
In Cheshire, town offices were open as well. Town Manager Sean Kimball, in an email, wrote there are no plans to close town buildings this year, or in 2022, when Juneteenth falls on a Sunday.
“This was only signed by the President yesterday so we’ll need some time to consider this further before next June and also look to see what if any guidance or actions the State takes before then,” Kimball wrote.
In Meriden, Coon said as far as he was aware, the city had not received requests for days off for the 2021 Juneteenth observance.
Kim Fisher, president of the Meriden-Wallingford branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said she is not sure whether Meriden’s observance of the holiday down the line will include a paid day off for city employees. Her organization has planned an outdoor celebration to recognize the holiday.
The NAACP, joined by the Wallingford Democratic Town Committee, will host that celebration at Johanna Manfreda Fishbein Park on Quinnipiac Street, in Wallingford. The two hour event, which starts at noon, is scheduled to include remarks, live performances, refreshments, and more, according to its Facebook page.
Meriden City Councilor Sonya Jelks, the Democratic Majority leader, will be among the speakers for that event.
Jelks said she is “thrilled” by possibilities for Juneteenth celebrations in the years to come, as a result of the holiday’s new federal recognition, which she described as “long overdue.”
When asked how the Juneteenth holiday should be observed, Jelks said its message should be reflective, and it should be both a commemoration and a celebration. Jelks explained it should recognize and honor the tremendous and important contributions of African-Americans throughout the country’s history, while acknowledging they occurred in spite of hardship and oppression, due to slavery and segregation laws.
“My hope would be, when we have more time to plan for it, is what we have is a Juneteenth Jubilee in Meriden,” Jelks said. She envisions that jubilee would scroll through town in the form of a parade. It would not only be a holiday observed by city officials and residents. Jelks said she would encourage local businesses and partnerships to participate as well.
“It would just truly be a celebration for our city, to recognize how far we have come,” Jelks said.
At Mount Hebron Baptist Church, observances this weekend will be low-key, explained the Rev. Willie J. Young, the church’s pastor. He is excited about the possibilities of future celebrations.
Young would like to see a holiday for all people, in which individuals of different nationalities and religious backgrounds mingle. He is open to suggestions from his church’s members.
“I’m just excited that this is being done,” Young said.