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Syracuse's Juneteenth Celebration Revels In Creation of Federal Holiday

Scott Willis
WAER's office manager and Gospel Show Host Cora Thomas reads a poem at the kick-off of Syracuse's Juneteenth weekend of events.

Syracuse launched its annual Juneteenth celebration at city hall Friday with renewed jubilation after it officially became a federal holiday. The Syracuse Elks Lodge Drum Line ensemble provided the beat, and Juneteenth Committee member and retired SU professor Roosevelt “Rick” Wright Junior beamed with local pride.

"Finally, Juneteenth, a federal holiday, signed Thursday in the White House of the United States of America by President Joseph R. Biden, who is a Syracuse University alum!" boomed Wright.

Mayor Ben Walsh read a proclamation:

"...And, whereas in honor of Juneteenth becoming an official holiday in Syracuse, Onondaga County, and New York State in 2020, and now a federal holiday in 2021 after the US Congress passed a bill to recognize the day's significance, the city will fly the Juneteenth flag all day at city hall to honor the ancestral celebration of freedom."

WAER's office manager and Gospel Show host Cora Thomas read a poem:

"...for slavery had ended for woman, child, and man. The time: 18 and 63, the first day of the year. But June of '65 would be the time we would hold dear."

That's the time between when President Abraham Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation, and when Union soldiers led by Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger arrived at Galveston, TX with the news that the Civil War had ended and that the people who remained enslaved in Confederate territories were free.

Juneteenth committee member Ruthnie Angrand says the new federal holiday would not have been possible without the year of protests following the murder of George Floyd by police, and the mistreatment of so many other African Americans. She hopes the holiday will serve as a stepping stone to compel more action.

"We're going to use these words, acknowledging Juneteenth, to hold our elected officials, our governments accountable to actually making policy that supports racial equity: Things like the wealth gap between blacks and whites, between men and women; reparations and what that looks like to communities that have been red-lined, that have excessive arrests of person of color. Those policies have to happen because we're going to point back to this holiday, we're going to point back to the mission statements and public statements about racial equity, and we're going to say: Those are the words that you said, so now we're looking for the actions that prove those words true."

Angrand says she understands those who say now is not the time to rest on our laurels. But at the same time, she says, we can take some time to rest and celebrate this victory.

There are about a dozen events over the course of the weekend. Find out more here.

Scott Willis
Members of the Syracuse Elks Lodge Drum Line showcase their talents.