Reminder Publishing photo by Sarah Heinonen

SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Maura Healey and U.S. Rep. Richard Neal joined Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, state and local officials to raise a flag commemorating Juneteenth outside Springfield City Hall. Juneteenth remembers June 19, 1965, when the news was delivered to Galveston Bay, Texas by United States Army that all enslaved people were free.

State Sen. Adam Gomez and state Reps. Bud Williams, Orlando Ramos and Carlos Gonzalez were on hand for the ceremony, as were city councilors Lavar Click-Bruce, Antonio Delgado and Tim Allen.

Williams, who filed the legislation that made Juneteenth a state holiday in 2020, spoke about the nearly 200,000 Black soldiers who fought for the Union in the Civil War, emphasizing that they had earned their freedom. He also spoke about the “20 acres and a mule” that the federal government had agreed to give to formerly enslaved people, as “land was key to generational wealth.” After President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated and President Andrew Johnson succeeded him, the latter revoked the agreement. Williams said this was at the heart of the call for reparations. “It’s owed, I’m on this,” he said of the work on reparations in the state Legislature.

Sarno acknowledged that Juneteenth was “a day of pain and purpose” and read a city proclamation “rededicating ourselves to rooting out racism.”

Neal spoke about the misconception that the Civil War was fought over states’ rights. He refuted that, saying the only thing Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest agreed upon was that “the Civil War was fought over slavery.” Neal also praised the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the United States Constitution, as well as the Civil Rights Act of 1965 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which endeavored to recognize Black and white Americans as equal under law.

In her comments, Healey said Juneteenth was a time to celebrate “the joy, strength of Black citizens.” Referring to legislation in other states that have banned diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, she vowed, “That will never happen here.” She also said the state is always working to “do better” in terms of equity.