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MTA makes Juneteenth an official agency holiday

June 18, 2020 David Brand
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The MTA will observe Juneteenth as an agency holiday, according to a memo sent to staff members Wednesday night.

The decision by the MTA came hours after Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order designating June 19, or Juneteeth, a holiday for state employees to commemorate the end of slavery.

In an email to staff, MTA Chief People Officer Paul Fama said the transit agency “is following Gov. Cuomo’s lead and will make June 19, 2020 an MTA holiday.”

“This Friday June 19, 2020, all employees who are not required to work will be entitled to full pay without charge to any leave balances,” Fama wrote to staff in an email reviewed by the Eagle. “Employees who are required to work on June 19, 2020 will instead receive one additional compensatory day.”

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An MTA spokesperson confirmed the contents of the emailed memo.

Juneteenth marks the anniversary of the date in 1865 when Union soldiers arrived at Galveston, Texas to announce that the Civil War had ended and that all enslaved Black people were free. The end of the war came two years after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves in Confederate states.

Cuomo’s executive order followed a legislative effort led by Assemblymember Alicia Hyndman to make Juneteenth an official state holiday.

“Next year it has to be a state holiday,” Hyndman told the Eagle. “This is American history and we have to acknowledge it.”

Hyndman said the official holiday will inform New Yorkers about the brutal realities of slavery and the lasting impact of institutional racism on Black people 151 years after the end of the Civil War.

“When it comes to systemic racism in classes across the country, we do not acknowledge slavery and the lasting effects, and that’s why George Floyd’s death is an atrocity. That’s why Breonna Taylor’s death is a tragedy,” Hyndman said.

The police killings of Floyd in Minnesota and Taylor in Kentucky touched off weeks of demonstrations across the country against racist police violence and institutional racism.

“I’m happy that now, more people have asked, ‘What is Juneteenth?’ and that shows Black history is often excluded from American history,” she said.

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