Juneteenth has its day
Mass. to observe date marking final end of slavery
Governor Deval Patrick shook hands with children after
signing a proclamation on Juneteenth in Dorchester
yesterday. Massachusetts follows 24 states that have
recognized the date.
(John Tlumacki/ Globe Staff)
Boston Globe Newspaper
By Brian R. Ballou June 17, 2007
June 19 is now Juneteenth Independence Day in Massachusetts.
(Boston, Massachusetts) - As smoke lifted from hundreds of barbecue
grills and children sipped strawberry soda under tents yesterday in
Franklin Park, Governor Deval Patrick signed a proclamation that makes
June 19 a day of observance to commemorate the date in 1865 when the
last people held as slaves in the United States learned they were free.
Massachusetts follows 24 states that have officially
recognized the date. As Patrick held the proclamation aloft, cheers
erupted among the thousands of people who turned out for the
"This is something we've all waited for a long time," said
Shirley Battle , 77, who moments earlier had leaned over the signing
table and kissed Patrick on the cheek after he signed the proclamation.
"It means so much that he signed it," she said.
The day held special symbolism for Patrick, the Commonwealth's
first African-American governor, as well as national and local
organizers of the effort to have Juneteenth recognized as a national
" It's a wonderful occasion for the neighborhood, the extended
family, and the community to come together like this, and the spirit
here is powerful," said Patrick, surrounded by a crowd of people
attempting to take snap shots with him. "I remember coming here last
year and getting so much encouragement in the course of the campaign,
and I get that same encouragement here again today."
The Rev. Ronald Myers , chairman of the National Juneteenth
Observance Foundation , hailed the proclamation yesterday in a
telephone interview from Mississippi.
"It's significant what happened in Massachusetts for two
reasons, the first being that this is number 25, which means we're
halfway," Myers said. "The second reason is that the proclamation was
signed by Deval Patrick, who is the only black governor in the country.
We hope that he will be a supporter of Juneteenth as he meets other
governors, and let them know how significant that date is."
Myers said the foundation, which he created, began working in
2000 to make Juneteenth a national holiday that would be observed in
each state, similar to the way Flag Day is.
"We'll probably get five more states by next year, and we'll keep working until we get all the states," he said.
In 1980 , Texas became the first state to officially recognize
Juneteenth. It remains the only state that observes the holiday as a
day off for state workers. Florida and Oklahoma proclaimed Juneteenth a
day of observance in the 1990s , and the other 22 states have made
similar proclamations since 2000 .
Myers and local organizers predicted yesterday that nationwide observance of the day may not be far away .
"With every state that signs off, it greatly increases the
effort to get Juneteenth recognized as a national holiday," said Ralph
F. Browne Jr., the cochairman of the Massachusetts Branch of the
National Juneteenth Holiday Campaign. "When Lincoln signed the
Emancipation Proclamation, that was just the beginning of the task to
eradicate slavery. I think that it is proper that we, as a country,
recognize the end of it."
The Emancipation Proclamation became official Jan. 1, 1863,
but it was not until June 19, 1865 , that slaves in Texas found out
they were free. Union soldiers led by General Gordon Granger sailed
into Galveston with news that the war had ended and all slaves were
free. Former slaves held huge cookouts to celebrate.
Those cookouts are re-created annually in celebrations from
Texas to Virginia, where community wide barbecues have been a custom
for many decades.
In Boston, the first significant celebration occurred about 11
years ago, when a small group of Roxbury residents gathered after the
funeral of a friend. They began discussing Juneteenth, and decided to
start an annual event that has become known as Roxbury Pride Day
Juneteenth Celebration , said Evelyn Thorpe , chairwoman of the Roxbury
Homecoming Committee . "In the South, Juneteenth is very well-known,
but people in the North didn't really know about it, about the
history," she said.
Thorpe said as many as 5,000 people attended the celebration
yesterday, slightly more than the average crowds in recent years.
People danced under sunny skies to soul music from the 1970s, family
members pounded playing cards onto folding tables, and several men
played tennis at a nearby court. But food dominated the event. Small
grills, cooking up sausages or burgers , were everywhere. A few
families lugged large, stainless steel grills with multiple cooking
levels onto the grass and set up elaborate picnic areas. At one large
gathering, catered food was set up buffet-style.
"I've been going to the same place every year, Chef Lee," said
Ron Wortham , 68, of Roxbury. "The ribs, the chicken, the salad, it's
all there," he said, pointing to a long table with foil-covered pans.
Wortham then pointed to several dozen people sitting under a shade
tree. "We've been doing this since it started 11 years ago. Most of us
are in our 60s or 70s and we've know n each other since we were about 8
Nearby, Wortham's 5-year-old granddaughter, Troi Rene Wortham , read a children's book about Juneteenth.
"We bought her that book because we wanted her to know
everything about the celebration," Ron Wortham said. "Not that it's
just a time to eat good food."