Black lawmakers reflect on first Juneteenth holiday, but say more work remains

Some of the lawmakers who made it happen said the day is a major milestone, but the “Land of Steady Habits” has a lot of work to do to even the playing field for people of color.

John Craven

Jun 19, 2023, 9:28 PM

Updated 299 days ago


Monday marked Connecticut’s first official Juneteenth holiday. Some of the lawmakers who made it happen said the day is a major milestone, but the “Land of Steady Habits” has a lot of work to do to even the playing field for people of color.
The effort to make Juneteenth an official state holiday began after the murder of George Floyd in 2020. Gov. Ned Lamont signed the law last year.
“I have to give credit to my colleagues, because the Black legislators weren't the only ones able to get it through,” said state Sen. Pat Billie Miller (D-Stamford).
Only two lawmakers voted against the bill – Republicans Gale Mastrofranceso and Rob Sampson. During the Connecticut House debate, Mastrofrancesco said she supported the intent of a new Juneteenth holiday, but said state workers already qualify for up to nine weeks off each year.
“This is just wrong,” she said. “This is not fair to the taxpayers of this state, that they should have to foot this bill.”
Juneteenth marks the day enslaved people in Texas were finally freed in 1865 – more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.
Congress declared Juneteenth a national holiday in 2021. In more than half the country, it's a state holiday, too.
Banks and government offices are now closed on June 19 – or the nearest Friday or Monday. If schools are open, they must hold an educational program about Juneteenth.
Lamont marked the milestone Monday on Twitter.
“It's a reminder that, every day, you have to fight for your rights,” he said. “You have to fight for your civil rights.”
But Lamont and Black lawmakers have clashed on key issues, including criminal justice reform, labor issues and affordable housing quotas. Data show that Connecticut’s housing shortage disproportionately impacts minorities.
“There was a bill that, this past session – in housing, regarding affordable housing,” said Miller. “It was stripped of the important issues and initiatives.”
The bill would have required each local community to meet “Fair Share” housing quotas, but lawmakers dropped the mandate after intense backlash from suburban Democrats. Lamont prefers offering incentives to requirements.
The final version of the bill sets voluntary housing quotas and establishes new protections for renters. It passed and is now awaiting Lamont’s signature, but only after an eight-hour Republican filibuster on the last day of the legislative session.
"It's a clear shot across the bow against local control of our towns and cities in Connecticut,” said state Sen. Ryan Fazio (R-Greenwich) during the debate.
Despite her fellow Black lawmakers’ frustration, state Sen. Marilyn Moore (D-Bridgeport) said the bill is still an important step forward.
“I live on a street that, one block over, in the 70s, I went to get an apartment and the woman told me she didn't rent to colored people,” she said. “So, I look at the progress that we've made.”
Black lawmakers hope the new holiday is a chance for white counterparts to reflect on their experience.
“I invite them to come back to where I live at,” said state Rep. Kadeem Roberts, a freshman Democrat from Norwalk. “Come back to the housing facilities and the projects that I grew up in.”
Moore said it’s not enough to support equity on the Juneteenth holiday alone.
“Don't use my story of struggle to get your point across, and then not support me when I'm trying to do something for equity for Black and brown people,” she said. “Don't just use that story, but believe that, if we're going to move forward, we all have to be in this together.”

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