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Reading kicks off Juneteenth by raising a flag outside City Hall

Originally Published in the Reading Eagle

When President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, it took two years for the news to reach the slaves in Galveston, Texas. Once it did, there was cause for celebration.

Friday afternoon people gathered outside of Reading’s City Hall to commemorate the day and raise the Juneteenth flag.

“Establishing June 19 as a legal holiday and raising this flag serve as a reminder of America’s promise of freedom, of family, of faith and because we are America’s history,” said Stacey Taylor, president of the Reading NAACP. “Celebrating Juneteenth 2021 is different than past years. This is due in part to issues we are going through because of the color of our skin. The injustices we have suffered and continue to suffer.”

Lee Wilder delivered the welcome at Friday’s event.

“We are not just here to celebrate Juneteenth 156 years, but this is the first one that is recognized as a national holiday,” he said.

President Joe Biden signed legislation on Thursday making Juneteenth a federal holiday.

The flag raising kicked off a weekend full of Juneteenth celebrations. 

Mayor Eddie Moran, who did not attend Friday’s ceremony, signed an executive order last week declaring June 19 a city holiday and giving all nonessential city employees a day off on Friday. Moran said he would work with all the necessary parties to make Juneteenth an annual city holiday.

Also known as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day and by other names, the holiday is observed on June 19, the date in 1865 that word reached slaves in Galveston that they were free.

“I couldn’t be more proud and more honored to be here today,” said U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan. “Today as we happily raise this flag we mark and we celebrate the emancipation of African Americans who had been enslaved in these United States.”

State Sen. Judy Schwank noted that Gov. Tom Wolf made Juneteenth a state holiday last year.

“It should have happened a long time ago,” Schwank said. “This is a special holiday, as we all know. On that day, 156 years ago, I can’t imagine the mixture of emotions those people felt. For the first time in their lives they were no longer the property of the slave owners. They were free.”

State Rep. Manny Guzman said while Juneteenth is a time for celebrating the fight for equality is not over.

“We (Guzman and Schwank) are fighting against the attack against democracy that is happening every single day in Harrisburg,” he said. “These bills will make it harder for our people to vote. Whether it's voter ID or whether it's a poll tax, you name it, it’s in that bill.”