State of Vermont
OFFICE OF THE GOVERNOR
Friday, June 19, 2020
Montpelier, Vt. – At a press conference Friday, Governor Phil Scott was joined by the State’s Executive Director of Racial Equity Xusana Davis and Representative Kevin ‘Coach’ Christie, chair of the Human Rights Commission, to mark Juneteenth, which commemorates the ending of slavery in the United States. Governor Scott also proclaimed it Juneteenth Recognition Day in Vermont.
The group highlighted the importance of reflecting on the transformational impact of the events of June 19, 1865, recognized the continued need to confront the racial inequality and systemic racism that still exist, and discussed opportunities to address inequity today.
Click here to view the full press conference, including remarks from Davis and Rep. Christie, and see a transcript of Governor Scott’s remarks below.
Governor Scott: I want to start by recognizing the importance of today’s date. As you may know, June 19 has great historical significance, marking the release of many of the last enslaved Americans held under our nation’s brutal slavery system.
If we’re being honest, many of us – including me – haven’t always reflected on the magnitude of this date in the same way we do other anniversaries and days of remembrance that are included on our calendar.
And, the fact is, this says a lot about how much more work we need to do to have a better understanding of what implicit bias or systemic racism even means, the inequality that still exists in America and the role we each play to change it. After all, Black history is American history, and we must never forget that our present-day prosperity came at an ugly price.
When each of us takes the time to consider the transformational impact the events of June 19, 1865 had, not only on those men, women, and – yes – children, who were finally freed from slavery, but also on our progress as a nation, it’s easy to realize that we should mark it with the same level of remembrance and celebration as we do any holiday that celebrates freedom and human rights.
Like most Vermonters, in elementary school I was taught that President Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves on January 1, 1863 when the Emancipation Proclamation was enacted.
It said, “…all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free…”
For many of us, this is when we believed slavery ended.
In reality, it was far more complicated, because dismantling the institution of slavery in every state following a deadly civil war wasn’t achieved with the simple stroke of a pen – and not even in the days, weeks or years that followed.
The Emancipation Proclamation was truly just a first step. Its implementation took years. And frankly, we still haven’t eliminated the legacy of that system, and the racism that comes with it.
On June 19, 1865, nearly three months after Lee’s surrender to General Grant at Appomattox and years after Emancipation was first announced, freedom finally reached the most remote territories of our nation, when Union General Gordan Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas.
For many slave owners, Texas offered refuge from states that were ravaged by war. By the time General Granger and the 2,000 Union soldiers with him delivered orders, informing residents that the Emancipation would be enforced in Texas, it’s estimated that it freed 250,000 people. 250,000 human beings still held as property.
Their freedom began to close the darkest, most grotesque chapter in our nation’s history. Appropriately, from then on, many African Americans have celebrated “Juneteenth,” marking the end of slavery in our nation.
And as we consider what we’re seeing across the country right now, and the need to listen and learn about one another – and better understand the very real legacy of racism in our country and institutions – I think it’s fitting for us to celebrate this important event.
We must better reflect on what it means for African Americans, and for everyone who loves freedom, believes in the dignity of every life and the American promise of equal rights and justice for all – without exception.
To help us celebrate this holiday, I’m happy to have Representative Coach Christie, chair of the Vermont Human Rights Commission, here to offer a few words, as well as Xusana Davis, the state’s executive director for Racial Equality.
This opportunity is important because we know – 155 years later – we still have to finish the work that was started.
We need look no further than the vandalism on State Street, just last weekend, to be reminded that racism and discrimination are still far too prevalent in America today, and in Vermont.
And it’s important because it’s history that too many of us learned as adults – and we must not let the lessons of this history be overlooked or ignored.
Understanding the experience and perspective of other Americans and recognizing that those experiences, in many cases, are vastly different and have not been equal or fair, helps us all become better neighbors, better citizens and better human beings.
This understanding will help ensure we act to extend equality, end racism and discrimination, and move us closer to that more perfect union we all have a responsibility to create.