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No Flags for First Juneteenth

Wed, 06/23/2021 - 18:49


It is difficult to know what is worse, that because of latent racism, East Hampton did not put out American flags for the very first Juneteenth national holiday or that public officials and veterans groups whose members often are the ones who do the actual work did not know about it. Either way, it was an omission that must be confronted.

Juneteenth may have its origins in the day a Union general in Galveston, Tex., issued an order telling the formerly enslaved population that they were free. Some critics have asked what this might have to do with other parts of the country, though any debate, if there ever was any, about Thanksgiving being a New England thing was long ago settled. And focusing again on slavery in states south of the Mason-Dixon line has obscured the very real truth that enslaved people were everywhere in the Colonial and early-republic United States of America.

Texas was still held by Spain in 1619, when the first captive African people were brought ashore in Virginia, and remained so in 1638, the year the first ship loaded with enslaved Africans disembarked at Boston. Slavery is an American story, not of the South alone, which is why June 19 is as good a date as any on the calendar to sit up and pay attention to the debt, at a minimum, of acknowledgement that is owed to Black Americans.

President Biden signed the bill creating the federal holiday only last Thursday, giving those responsible for putting the flags on display only two days to get ready. This does not excuse their inaction. It was especially notable in East Hampton Village, where, in recent months, flags were hung nearly daily on newly painted black lampposts along Main Street. They, like the familiar, ground-mounted ones, were not to be seen on Saturday.

Meanwhile, in Southampton, there was a Juneteenth celebration in Agawam Park, and up the way on North Sea Road, the opening of the new Southampton African American Museum, both of which were attended by elected officials.

The only way that this country is going to advance its healing of its racist divisions is by paying attention to moments like the first national Juneteenth, confronting our collective history as Americans, Black, white, and Indigenous, who all had an essential role in creating this thing called America.

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