Juneteenth, the new national holiday marking the end of slavery as an institution in the United States, came and went in East Hampton Town and Village with only slight notice. National holidays are normally an occasion to put American flags along the Main Streets, only in this instance, none appeared. That this milestone on the difficult path to reconciliation with our shared past was not celebrated in any official way in East Hampton if nothing else shows how much more work is to be done. Elected officials could have and should have done better.
East Hampton Village Mayor Jerry Larsen made exactly this admission during a recent public meeting in which he apologized and said that the oversight was his fault and that he would do better in the future. This was exactly the right response.
In Town Hall, the tone was defensive. Though Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc had made a statement of support during a board meeting on the day President Biden made Juneteenth official, his office in response to criticism sent out a combative private email arguing that that had been recognition plenty and that it wasn’t the town supervisor’s job anyway, to see that the flags were out.
A degree of clarity emerged in the following weeks, with the commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars East Hampton Post reminding the community that the handful of people who kept the flags flying was getting fewer and that the job had been actually handed over to the Ladies Village Improvement Society and East Hampton Chamber of Commerce, at least within village limits.
Since then, there have been conversations about who will be responsible for the flags going forward, and at least one volunteer organization has asked its members if they might lend a hand, particularly if other groups jump in and divide the days among themselves.
Recognition that American prosperity was built on the forced labor of millions of African people in the North, as well as the South, is a crucial step toward healing the wounds and our coming closer together as one people. Looking away, saying it is someone else’s responsibility, does no one any good.