Rep. Mark Lawson - (*contact Vermont Juneteenth State Director,
Shirley Boyd-Hill - 802-849-9272) (passed 2008)
Vermont adopts Juneteenth as holiday
Vermont Free Press
Terri Hallenback 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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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
The relative lack of awareness of racism in Vermont,
Boyd-Hill said, can be attributed to the fact that its residents are
"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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.