October 22, 2021

Village of Homer makes Juneteenth a floating holiday

The Homer Village Board voted 4-1 Tuesday night to make June 19th an official paid floating holiday in the village.

Juneteenth is a holiday celebrated June 19 to commemorate the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States.

Both Columbus Day and Black Friday are floating holidays, meaning village employees can choose one day of celebration, but not both, said Mayor Darren “Hal” McCabe. With the addition of Juneteenth, residents will be able to choose one of the three holidays to take off as a paid holiday.

“There would be no additional cost to the village and it gives employees flexibility to celebrate,” McCabe said. “It increases recognition of the holiday in the village, which I think is important.”

Board members agreed and expressed their content with the idea and the choice of a floating holiday will save the Village $11,000. But board member Kevin Slack chose to abstain but did not elaborate.

“I am not sure I am in favor but I talked to Pat (Clune) extensively and it seems like the best solution to make everybody happy and not cause a ruckus,” Slack said.

But with celebration comes education and Homer Historian Martin Sweeney, alongside board members, want to make sure residents know what they’re celebrating, and why. Still, ideas for education are limited.

“If you ask folks when the American Civil War ended, they’re apt to give you the wrong answer,” Sweeney said at a board meeting earlier this month.

On Jan. 1, 1863, during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation declaring enslaved Black people in Confederate states were free. But only when the 13th Amendment was passed by Congress on Jan. 31, 1865, and ratified on Dec. 6, 1865, did emancipation end slavery throughout the United States.

After the Jan. 1, 1863 announcement of the proclamation, Union soldiers, many of whom were Black, marched onto plantations across cities in the South reading copies of the emancipation to spread the news.

“But this freed only Black slaves in states still in rebellion at that time against the Union,” Sweeney said. “To enforce the executive order, Union members had to get onto plantations in rebel states, which took a while — actual on-the-ground freedom for Black slaves came at different times in different locations.”

The end of organized military rebellion against the Union came on May 26, 1865, several weeks after the April 9 surrender of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in Appomattox, Virginia, Sweeney said. But the news of freedom didn’t reach Texas until June 19, 1865, marking the start of Juneteenth celebrations.

More than 2,000 Union troops landed in Galveston to announce the end of the war, Sweeney said. At the time, there were 250,000 enslaved Black people in the state.

“There’s been phenomenal growth within communities and organizations throughout our land, all with the mission to promote and cultivate knowledge of African-American culture,” Sweeney said. “It’s the
oldest nationally celebrated end of slavery in the United States.”

But Black residents of Cortland County haven’t celebrated Juneteenth in the past, said Black Lives Matter leader Melissa Kiser. Most of the people who celebrate it are from communities where the Black population is larger, like Syracuse and Rochester.

“Last year was the first year we observed it,” Kiser said. “With my son, I gave him information about why it was important and why it was necessary to understand.”

Kiser gave her son books to help him understand the day’s significance and talked to him about why they honor their past, she said.

When Juneteenth was first celebrated, it was similar to the Fourth of July, Sweeney said. There were parades, barbecues, speeches, music and the ceremonial drinking of strawberry soda, a luxury slaves didn’t often have. The color red is symbolic of perseverance and historically represents the struggle slaves endured.

“People are kind of now recognizing and understanding more and more that Columbus isn’t a person to be celebrating,” McCabe said. “This (floating holiday) allows us to take a holiday which has a negative connotation in people’s minds and use it on one that is more positive.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated to reflect the end of hostilities and the correct date of Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.