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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DA Clears Trooper in Fatal Hancock Shooting
By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
District Attorney Timothy Shugrue says the results of an autopsy by the medical examiner will not change his findings, which are based on the video and witnesses. With him are State Police Lts. Chris Bruno and Ryan Dickinson and First Assistant District Attorney Marianne Shelvey.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — District Attorney Timothy Shugrue has determined that State Police Trooper William Munch acted in compliance during what is being described as a "suicide by cop" earlier this month.
On Sept. 9, 64-year-old Phillip Henault reportedly placed a fictitious 911 call about an ongoing violent assault. Body-camera footage from the trooper shows the man advancing on him with two knives before being shot twice and collapsing in the street in front of his Richmond Road residence.
"Mr. Henault was actively using deadly force against law enforcement. There were no other objectively reasonable means that the trooper could have employed at the time in order to effectively protect himself and anyone that was in the home or the public. By virtue of his duties as a police officer, the trooper did not have the obligation to run away from Mr. Henault," Shugrue said during a press conference on Friday.
"Mr. Henault posed an active threat to the trooper and to the public. The trooper had a duty to arrest Mr. Henault who was engaged in various felonies. His arm was an active threat."
The DA determined that Munch's decision to fire his weapon at Henault under the circumstances was a "lawful and reasonable exercise of self-defense and defense of others" compliance with the policies of the State Police and commonwealth law, clearing the trooper of criminal charges and closing the investigation.
The lethal force was labeled as an "unavoidable last resort."
A preliminary autopsy determined the unofficial cause of death was two gunshot wounds to the torso with contributing factors of wounds to the wrists that were inflicted by Heneault. The final report from the medical examiner has not been issued.
Fixed in front of the Pittsfield Police Station, the statue honors thirteen former K9s dating back to 1976. Blue roses were placed for each pup next to the bronze Shepard that sits proudly on top.
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