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Juneteenth Bill Passes State Senate, Assembly

Legislation to make Juneteenth a state holiday has been passed in both the state Senate and Assembly — but a pair of state legislators aren’t satisfied yet.

Legislators overwhelmingly approved A.10628, which passed unanimously, and S.8598. The legislation creates a state holiday on June 19 each year to commemorate Juneteenth. Juneteenth celebrations date back to June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas, to declare the news that the war had ended and that those enslaved were now free two years after the Emancipation Proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln, according to the National Registry for Juneteenth Organizations and Supporters.

The Assembly legislation is sponsored by Democrat Alicia Hyndman and co-sponsored by Democrat Aravella Simotas and Nick Perry. There was little floor debate on the legislation, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo has gone on record as saying he will sign. The governor’s willingness to sign the legislation has raised the hackles of Assemblyman Charles Barron, D-Brooklyn.

“I always have a tough job up here because I’m wedded to the truth,” Barron said during floor debate earlier this week. “Beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing, the governor. These protests that put so much pressure on him that he came out early and said I will make Juneteenth a holiday. Send me a bill and I’ll sign it — because of the protests and the pressure. The real bill he needs to be signing and we need to be passing is the reparations bill. We need to get paid for these years of enslavement in this state and all across the country. So to avoid that he openly says I will pass a Juneteenth bill. I commend the sponsor of this bill, I know where her heart is and where her sincerity is and I support this bill 1,000%. But let’s pressure this governor and this Assembly to pass a reparations bill that is the remedy and really the answer to a lot of what’s going on in this state.”

Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, D-Buffalo and Assembly majority leader, also made note in her remarks from the Assembly floor that more should be done now that the Juneteenth bill has been passed. Peoples-Stokes didn’t push for reparations, but for curriculum to be developed to teach African-American history in public schools. Peoples-Stokes said the state made a promise years ago to do so, but no action has been taken since.

“When Mr. Pataki was governor — that had to be a couple decades ago — he came into Buffalo, came up Michigan Avenue where three decades of history had been created by Black people and he signed into law something called the Amistad law,” Peoples-Stokes said. “It was legislation that was passed by Assemblymember Keith Wright that said the state Education Department should infuse the history of African-American people into the curriculum because, quite frankly, American history is African-American history. To this day that has not happened. And so, perhaps three governors later, an executive order to create a holiday and this piece of legislation right here will motivate not just the state Education Department but all of us as New Yorkers and all of us as Americans to understand that when we hide truths we create problems. We should put some light on the truth.”

Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown and minority whip, joined the rest of the Assembly in voting for the bill while noting that the Fourth of July holds significance in the state’s civil rights movement as well.

“I just wanted to also point out there are other dates that are really important here in New York state that we want to celebrate,” Goodell said. “Some folks may not realize that July 4, in addition to being when the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, July 4, 1827, was the date that New York officially ended all slavery, and so that’s one more reason for us to be celebrating on July 4. In some ways Juneteenth reminds me of the frustration that many of us recognize that it took us almost two years for word to get down to Texas. For two years those people were enslaved after the war. Now it takes two seconds for word to get around the world. We’ve made a lot of progress. but we certainly have a lot more progress to make.”

Barron quickly a second moment on the floor, via Zoom, to rebut Goodell’s point.

“To mention the Fourth of July with Juneteenth is an insult,” Barron said. “The Fourth of July, when Betsy Ross was stitching the American flag in 1776, we were catching stitches in slavery. I want to suggest to all of my colleagues that they read Frederick Douglass’ speech on what the Fourth of July means to me and Black people. We shouldn’t even celebrate it, we were in such bad conditions when this country first started. I wanted to make sure this isn’t tainted with the Fourth of July. This is a holiday we will be celebrating separate from that, not in addition to it. Finally, the Amistad curriculum the majority leader spoke of, we need to fight for that. We need to have mandatory African-American history in all of our schools in this state. That is something solid to go along with Juneteenth and to go along with reparations.”

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