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    Saturday, April 20, 2024

    Groton makes Juneteenth an official town, city holiday

    Groton — Groton is making Juneteenth an official town holiday.

    The Town Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution to recognize Juneteenth on or near June 19 annually, noting that the council “wishes to support the holiday in recognition of the end of slavery in the United States” and has identified Groton "as a proactive municipality in the efforts of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.”

    Juneteenth commemorates "the announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation in Galveston, Texas, over two years after it was issued,” a town document states.

    The vote came after the council discussed the proposal and took a first vote at its March 22 Committee of the Whole meeting. Human Resources Director Arnetia Green told the council at that meeting that recognizing Juneteenth is an opportunity “to take a step in identifying ourselves as a municipality that supports and wishes to highlight the significance of Juneteenth and also further our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion efforts.”

    Among those efforts, outreach, trainings and events, such as a Black History Month flagraising celebration, Pride Month flagraising celebrations, and speeches and musical performances to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech have been held in town.

    City of Groton Mayor Keith Hedrick said the city also has included Juneteenth as one of the city's recognized holidays, and he is working with the NAACP for a program in recognition of the holiday.

    Green said designating the Juneteenth holiday aligns with efforts to be a DEI-conscious town in the eyes of staff, residents and peer towns. “It’s really recognizing the cultural and historical significance of the end of slavery in the U.S. and speaking to the goodwill and morale again of supporting the DEI collaborative and what we strive to represent in the town,” she said.

    “This is really exciting to see,” Town Councilor Portia Bordelon said during that meeting. “I think it’s great for Groton. It’s long overdue.”

    Town Manager John Burt said by email that, starting this year, town offices will be closed annually on the holiday, and nonemergency personnel would have the day off.

    The annual cost is estimated at about $25,000, which includes overtime for staff who would be required to work on the holiday, such as telecommunicators and police personnel, and a few public works and golf course staff, according to Green. When the holiday falls on a weekend, it would be observed on a weekday.

    Burt said recognition of the holiday “is a significant milestone in acknowledgement of the cultural and historical significance it represents” and “another way to show the public that the Town of Groton is striving to be inclusive and representative of our entire community.”

    Burt said the town's DEI committee is looking into a commemoration event. He said he appreciates the work by the DEI committee and Green to get the town to this point and is very proud of the Town Council for supporting this important step.

    Connecticut has yet to recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday, Green said.

    The state legislature moved in 2003 "to require the governor to 'proclaim the Saturday that is closest to June 19th of each year to be Juneteenth Independence Day in recognition of the formal emancipation of enslaved African Americans,'" but has not made it an official state holiday, The Connecticut Mirror reported.

    Last week, the Government Administration and Elections Committee passed a bill out of committee to make Juneteenth Independence Day a legal holiday in Connecticut, and it is awaiting action from the General Assembly.

    Nearby, New York and Massachusetts are among those that have made Juneteenth a state holiday, according to news reports. And U.S. President Joe Biden signed a bill in 2021 to make Juneteenth a federal holiday.

    Some places in Connecticut, including New Haven and Manchester, have made Juneteenth an official municipal holiday, according to news reports.

    Norwich Mayor Peter Nystrom said the city was the first municipality in the state to celebrate Juneteenth and has been marking the occasion annually for more than 30 years. "I think the federal designation is sufficient," he said.

    Norwich City Manager John Salomone said there has been some informal discussions about making Juneteenth a city holiday but nothing formal. He said it would have to be negotiated with the city employee unions if there is to be a tradeoff with another day. He said he prefers to wait for any possible action by the state first, as was done with Martin Luther King Day in the 1980s.

    Day Staff Writer Claire Bessette contributed to this report.


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