PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Juneteenth was celebrated Saturday for the first time as a local, state, and national holiday.
The city of Pittsfield added the holiday to its municipal roster in May, Gov. Charlie Baker signed a bill making Juneteenth a state holiday last July, and President Biden signed a bill making it a national holiday on Thursday.
Berkshire NAACP President Dennis Powell spoke to iBerkshires about the origins of the date and its implications in modern-day society.
Though he is glad to see it adopted nationally, Powell expressed mixed feelings about Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery and has been celebrated in some parts of the country as Emancipation Day.
"The paradox of all of this is if there wasn't slavery, there'd be no Juneteenth," he said. "So that's what we really have to look at, and then what are we celebrating? We're celebrating just the worst thing that could happen to a human being, was done by America. So let's not forget that."
The final execution and fulfillment of the terms of the Emancipation Proclamation was signed on June 19, 1865. On this day, Union Army Gen. Gordan Granger read General Order No. 3 to the enslaved people of Texas and ended slavery in the areas of the United States after more than 300 years.
Some say Juneteenth was not the end slavery because there was delayed enforcement of the Emancipation Proclamation in Texas and that it was the 13th Amendment — which abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for a crime — that actually ended it.
"We had the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, which did not end slavery, by the way, because the proclamation didn't include all the states because they did not apply to Union states where all this slavery was, so it was really the 13th Amendment that abolished slavery," Powell said.
"But then in Galveston, Texas, the 13th Amendment didn't even help the slaves there because it was six months after the 13th Amendment was ratified that the general went to Texas with 2,000 troops and announced that slavery had ended."
Powell said he is disappointed that it was not a unanimous decision to adopt Juneteenth in both the U.S. House and Senate.
"And that's the same that happened with Franklin D. Roosevelt's Four Freedoms, it wasn't adopted unanimously by either house, although it did pass," he added. "So it continues to show the division."
In the future, he hopes that Juneteenth receives the same level of celebration as the Fourth of July. Though Powell said it is important to understand that the holiday is a celebration of African American people's freedom and should not be monetized by companies.
"I've got sort of mixed feelings, I'm happy, I'm grateful, but I also look back and say, 'if we were all given our rights at birth, then there would be no need for any of this,'" he said.
"Blacks were considered not human and less than, and we continue with that, with all this freedom and everything, we are still not totally free because when you look at what's going on now, with the voting suppression, when you look in our educational system it's not equal, our financial institutions, our homeownership or land ownership. So there's still obstacles and barriers and pushback."
The NAACP Berkshire Chapter hosted a Juneteenth rally at Park Square. The Women of Color Giving Circle gave out its annual scholarships and the NAACP awarded college stipends to 23 Berkshire County African American graduates.
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Firefighters used several avenues of attack to douse the blaze.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A midday fire Thursday on South Atlantic Avenue killed a pet and left a family homeless.
Police happened to be at a neighboring house when they were notified of a fire at 16 South Atlantic. The Fire Department was called out at 12:35 p.m. and found "heavy fire conditions" on the first floor in the kitchen area, reported Deputy Chief Daniel Garner.
The fire had extended into the adjoining rooms of the 2 1/2-story, wood frame home. Crews from four engines and a ladder truck attacked the blaze; a primary search was conducted to ensure no one was in the building.
There were no reported injuries but a dog perished in the blaze. Garner estimated that the house suffered about $20,000 to $50,000 in damage, largely from heavy fire and smoke on the first floor and smoke damage throughout.