Beacon Hill marks Juneteenth with calls to protect education, pursue reparations

Years after Massachusetts and the federal government moved to make Juneteenth an official holiday in the United States, local leaders urged policymakers Wednesday to keep pushing for reforms on education, reparations, freedom, and equality.

The holiday marks the day in 1865 when enslaved people in Galveston, Texas found out they were free after the Civil War and more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

Sen. Lydia Edwards, a Boston Democrat, said people were enslaved for two more years because “they were kept in the dark, because they were kept ignorant of their rights.”

“The ability to enslave people is directly connected to the ability to prevent them from being educated, from being able to read, from being able to know what they are deserving of, what they are born with, to know their own history,” Edwards said during a Juneteenth Flag raising ceremony at the State House.

Edwards said advocates and elected officials need to fight “vigilantly to assure that there’s freedom in our education.”

“The minds of our youth are being attacked with horrible narratives that somehow learning about the imperfections of this country makes us weaker. It makes us stronger. Love is true if it’s complete and honest. I love this country. I’ve joined the United States military to die for this country because I’m honest about what this country is and has been to my own family,” she said at an event that was held across the street from the monument to the 54th Regiment, one of the first Black regiments of the Civil War.

NAACP Boston President Tanisha Sullivan said there is more work to be done for the “promise of freedom and equality that Juneteenth Freedom Day brought forth to be realized.”

“I ask that my fellow Bay Staters join our Legislature and our Governor’s Office in advancing policy that ensures that every resident of this commonwealth has access to affordable housing that is provided with dignity, that gives them an opportunity to build generational wealth,” she said. “Because that is the promise of Juneteenth.”

Massachusetts made Juneteenth a state holiday when former Gov. Charlie Baker signed a COVID-19 era spending bill into law that included a provision on the matter. The push to make the day an official holiday gained momentum after the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.

But the measure was approved by Baker too late in 2020 to officially make Juneteenth that year as a state holiday and it was not until June 2021 that the state holiday took effect.

President Joe Biden also signed legislation in June 2021 making the day a federal holiday, about a year after Baker put his signature to the policy here in Massachusetts.

Rep. Bud Williams, a Springfield Democrat who chairs the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus, said lawmakers around the country need to talk about reparations and make an effort to pass policies on the topic.

“We’re gonna have to deal with that in this country. Because … Black people realized, if we had the 40 acres, we could cultivate the land, we could build generational wealth,” he said, making reference to the Civil War-era promise to former slaves that they would receive 40 acres and a mule as reparations.

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