National Juneteenth Observance Foundation
                         Celebration of Freedom


Vermont recognizes Juneteenth as a State Holiday or State Holiday Observance through a Bill, House Resolution, Senate Resolution or Joint Resolution

Rep. Mark Lawson - (*contact Vermont Juneteenth State Director,    Shirley Boyd-Hill - 802-849-9272) (passed 2008)

Vermont adopts Juneteenth as holiday

Vermont Free Press
By Terri Hallenback     June 11, 2008

By Peter Hirschfeld Vermont Press Bureau - Published: June 11, 2008

MONTPELIER — It's safe to say most Vermonters have never heard of Juneteenth. And it's precisely that ignorance, according to Shirley Boyd-Hill, that made a bill-signing ceremony on Tuesday so important.

With a stroke of the governor's pen, Vermont became the 29th state in the nation to recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday. The holiday, to be celebrated annually on the third Saturday of June, commemorates the emancipation of African Americans from slavery on June 19, 1865.

"Hopefully people all over the state will celebrate this holiday now and recognize its significance," Boyd-Hill said during a bill-signing in the governor's fifth-floor conference room in the Pavilion Building Tuesday. The Fairfax woman chairs the state's Juneteenth Committee, which has lobbied for years for the state holiday.

The Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1863, but slavery persisted in Confederate-controlled Texas, whose government refused to enforce Lincoln's seminal edict. On June 19, 1863, Union Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Texas to take possession of the state and free its slaves. The holiday is celebrated widely in the South.

"Vermont prides itself on being one of the first states to abolish slavery, so I think it's quite fitting that we make it a state holiday," Boyd-Hill said. "And because Vermont is increasingly attracting more African Americans, I think it's quite fitting that we have our own holiday."

Vermont retains its status as one of the whitest states in the country, but demographic trends evince a recent influx of minorities to Vermont. According to the 2000 Census, only about 0.5 percent of Vermonters identify as African American. Still, that's a 57 percent increase over 1990. And in Burlington, which boasts the fastest-growing minority population in Vermont, up to one-third of students in some public schools are children of color.

"Three out of every 10 new Vermonters are either racial or ethnic minorities," said Curtiss Reed, Jr., executive director of ALANA Community Organization, which seeks to build "inclusive and equitable" communities. "There is an emerging minority community. The mindset of Vermont being uniformly white is no longer the case."

Gov. James Douglas used the bill-singing ceremony to herald Vermont's reputation as an inclusive state that celebrates minorities and their contributions to its communities.

"I think Vermont is a place where everyone, regardless of race or background, can succeed," Douglas said. The Juneteenth designation, he said, "is important to educate Vermonters … that there is a legacy in the country that is less pleasant."

But Boyd-Hill said the legacy of slavery continues to impede the pursuit of happiness for many Vermonters of color.

"When we go to the bank, when we go for housing, when we try to attempt any number of things, by gosh they're still beating up on us," Boyd-Hill said.

The relative lack of awareness of racism in Vermont, Boyd-Hill said, can be attributed to the fact that its residents are overwhelmingly white.

"Your kids don't get beat up and harassed at school, but little black children and children from other places do," Boyd-Hill said. "People aren't willing to understand and accept the racism that does exist here … So many people do racist things without realizing it's racist."

Robert Appel, head of the Vermont Human Rights Commission, said empirical data may corroborate Boyd-Hill's analysis. A snapshot of the state's incarcerated population in 2006 revealed that African Americans comprise fully 10 percent of all inmates, a proportion that far exceeds that minority's general population rate.

Anywhere from 10 percent to 15 percent of housing discrimination complaints filed with the Human Rights Commission are race-based, though people of color account for only about 5 percent of all Vermonters.

In schools, too, Appel said, data indicates that children of color are harassed more often than their white schoolmates. In 2003 and 2004, according to Department of Education statistics, about 10 percent of all school harassment claims filed were race-based, even though children of color accounted for only about 5 percent of the school-age population.

"Race-based complaints across the board are disproportionately higher than the number of people of color in Vermont," Appel said. "By most indicators, it would appear there continues to be a disadvantage to being nonwhite in Vermont. And the perception that Vermont is somehow free of this I think is based on a lack of understanding of what it's like to be nonwhite."

Reed said even symbolic gestures, like recognizing Juneteenth, will breed the kind of education and awareness needed to bridge whatever racial divide exists in the state.

"Racism is born of ignorance, and this is an opportunity to educate Vermonters not only to the legacy of slavery, but also to give hope and opportunity for a more inclusive and more equitable Vermont," Reed said.

Wanda Hines, who works for social equity with the Burlington Legacy Project, said Vermonters' apparent willingness to navigate the often uncomfortable topic of race relations will breed greater understanding and more inclusive communities.

"Strands of dialogue," according to Hines, like the roundtables on racial profiling by law-enforcement officers scheduled for later this week in Burlington, serve to ameliorate whatever racism still exists in Vermont.

"Innately we fear what we don't know. If we ask the hard questions, involve ourselves with the people around us, we'll be OK," Hines said.

The Juneteenth designation, she said, moves Vermont closer toward that goal.

"I think it's a validating moment," Hines said. "It's a great acknowledgement of where we've been, and it also speaks to where we need to go."

Douglas said he plans to host a more proper Juneteenth celebration later this month, though the law doesn't go into effect until July 1, so the first official celebration won't take place until next year.

And state workers won't get an extra day off next year. Paid holidays are negotiated during union bargaining sessions.