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Bar Association leaders praise decision to close courts for Juneteenth

June 19, 2020 Rob Abruzzese
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The New York State court system confirmed on Wednesday that it is included in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order and will be closed Friday in celebration of Juneteenth, to commemorate the emancipation of slaves after the Civil War.

The executive order only covers this year, but Cuomo said that he will propose legislation to make June 19 a permanent state holiday, which would give court employees an official day to reflect on Black history and achievements.

In Brooklyn, bar association leaders are thrilled with the announcement.

Natoya McGhie, president of the Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association, praised Gov. Cuomo’s executive order declaring Juneteenth an official state holiday this Friday. Photo: Rob Abruzzese/Brooklyn Eagle

“Juneteenth is celebrated and already observed in a majority of our states,” said Natoya McGhie, president of the Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association. “The governor’s executive order declaring Juneteenth a paid holiday for state employees allows for pause to commemorate the day of independence and significance in the African American community.”

Juneteenth is a celebration of June 19, 1865, the day that slaves in Texas were told they had gained their freedom following the Emancipation Proclamation. The proclamation was signed by President Abraham Lincoln more than two years prior to that date. However, it was not until after the surrender of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in 1865 and the arrival of U.S. Gen. Gordon Granger that slaves in Texas were freed.

Joy Thompson, president of the Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York.

Juneteenth has been informally celebrated in Texas and other states since, but it wasn’t until Jan. 1, 1980 when it became an official state holiday in Texas after Al Edwards, a state representative, passed a law officially recognizing it as a holiday.

Juneteenth is now recognized in some way in 48 states, with Hawaii and South Dakota being the only holdouts.

Joy Thompson, the president of the Women’s Bar Association for the State of New York, said that the day is important to many Americans and that she hopes that the holiday will give people a chance to reflect and learn about the country’s dark history.

“I am an American whose U.S. ancestry ultimately can be traced to an 18th-century bill of sale for chattel in the South, where my people are from,” said Thompson. “Education, example and experience have molded me into a woman who loves this country, even though it does not always love me back. Two hundred years since the abolition of slavery, my race and gender still define who I am and what I represent — often negatively — for those who do not know me, i.e. society at large.

“The reality of racism and prejudice can be depressing,” Thompson continued. “So, I am encouraged by Governor Cuomo’s declaration of Juneteenth as a state holiday. It is an acknowledgment of my and my ancestors’ citizenship and humanity. The move, however symbolic, celebrates the fact that my worth is no longer measured by the value on a bill of sale.”

The holiday will be marked locally during a Freedom Day rally at the Brooklyn Public Library by Borough President Eric Adams and Councilmembers Farah Louis and Laurie Cumbo at 10 a.m. on Friday.

“With our youth at the forefront, leading this collaborative effort and community conversation, we can continue to build upon the legacy forged by our ancestors: abolitionists, freedom fighters, civil rights activists and trailblazers,” Louis said.

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