First Ever Juneteenth Event in Greenwich Marked by Rousing Words

Friday’s Juneteenth event at town hall was the first in Greenwich’s history. The holiday only recently became official when Governor Ned Lamont signed the new legal state holiday into law.

Greenwich First Selectman Fred Camillo, who shared a proclamation declaring June 17, 2022 as Juneteenth Day in the Town of Greenwich, said the new holiday stood for the freedom that people fought for so long.

“It is something that should be celebrated by every single American, regardless of their race, color, ethnicity or religion,” he said.

“America is not a great country because we never had slavery. America is a great country because we had slavery and decided we would never have it again.”

– Reverend Dr. Thomas Nins

Rev. Dr. Thomas Nins reflected on the historic moment, saying, “None of us living today can fully comprehend slavery or reconcile its effect of the human spirit because none of us here today have ever been slaves.”

“I understand the attempt of certain people to rewrite our history so that it is less than honest about the atrocities associated with it,” he said. “That is part of the reason Juneteenth is so relevant.”

Rev. Dr. Thomas L. Nins at Greenwich’s first ever Juneteenth event at town hall. June 17, 2022 Photo: Leslie Yager

“It is a reminder,” Nins said. “Juneteenth is relevant because there is no legitimate way to portray slavery as anything but inhumane.”

Rev. Nins talked about the mythological narrative of the happy slave.

“Even on the most lenient and benevolent plantation – those men, women and children were still property,” he said. “We can’t understand that because we have never been property. Our children need to know that.”

“What makes American slavery so insidious, in part, was the brilliant decision to legitimize those actions by dehumanizing the slaves and providing scriptural support to soften the blow of those with a moral or Christian objection,” Nins said.

Rev. Nins shared inspiring words he composed for Friday’s event.

The word finally came, but we didn’t know yet.
The world had changed, but we hadn’t heard it.
Freedom, for many an impossible dream, and when the words came, some didn’t know what they mean.
Some were not ready to be this thing, free.
Slaves in the mind, chains on their dreams, living like property in the land of the free.
When the light is too bright, we go back to darkness.
Our movement is awkward because our eyes don’t adjust yet.
Night time has ended. The word finally comes, so we dance and march and gather in parks.
And we honor the elders and laugh and we talk.
We retell the story how we finally got here.
Raise hands to the heavens and thanks to God that we made it.
The word finally came and some of us heard it.
We tore off the chains and when we removed them, we walked in that new light, with a new right to choose it.
Freedom, we celebrate freedom. Freedom. We celebrate freedom. Freedom. We celebrate freedom.

Hector Arzeno and Greenwich First Selectman Fred Camillo. June 17, 2022 Photo: Leslie Yager

State Senator Fazio (R-36) described slavery as a dark chapter in America’s history.

“The emancipation of enslaved Black Americans needs to be recognized,” Fazio said. “I hope it is a day for reflection and solidarity – that we can continue to make this country more perfect.”

Selectwoman Janet Stone McGuigan described the celebration as both jubilant and sobering.

State Rep Steve Meskers (D-150) noted that 12 of the original founding fathers or presidents of the US were slave owners.

He said the freedoms granted in 1866 were rolled back in the era of Reconstruction.

“It wasn’t until 1965 that the Voting Rights Acts were enacted, that we actually gave people the right at the ballot box to voice their rights. And we see those gradually rolled back.”

“We are still a work in progress,” Meskers continued. “You see it today. You hear it today. You hear it in the concerns about oppression. You hear it about concerns about equality and opportunity. I think we all should be proud of the fact that we’ve gotten here, but acknowledge and recognize that so much work needs to be done in order to become a more perfect union.”

Mary Lee Kiernan from the YWCA Greenwich said their mission was to eliminate racism, empower women and promote, peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.

In 2020 YWCA Greenwich launched the Center for Equity and Justice, with Eric Crosby as director, to address gender and racial equity through community education, training, consulting and advocacy.

Kiernan said the Emancipation Proclamation declared more than 3 million slaves living in the Confederate states to be free, and nearly two years passed before the news reached African-Americans living in Texas. She noted it was not until Union soldiers arrived in Galveston on June 19, 1865 that those in Texas finally learned that slavery had been abolished.

“The former slaves immediately began to celebrate with prayer and song,” she said. “Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, is the oldest known celebration commemorating the end of slavery in this country. Early on, Juneteenth often involved helping newly freed Black people learn about their voting rights.”

“We should remember today that systemic racism is not the sort of interpersonal racism or acts of bigotry that some of us are more familiar with,” Kiernan said. “Systemic racism or institutional racism such as redlining by banks and real estate companies and governments that created housing segregation we all know has existed, that continues to create disparate outcomes for people of color – not only in housing, but also in education, health, employment and income.”

State Rep Fiorello, (R-149), said the event was a chance to honor and reflect on the courage of those who lived 150 years ago.

“When that generation faced an existential test like no other,” she said. “And as Abraham Lincoln said at Gettysburg, that the test is whether this nation, conceived in liberty, and so dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal can long endure.”

A group of nine Greenwich teens took turns reading President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, before hoisting a new flag up the pole outside town hall in honor of the holiday.

Mary Lee Kiernan, director of the YWCA Greenwich at town hall. June 17, 2022 Photo: Leslie Yager
Janet Stone McGuigan at town hall. June 17, 2022 Photo: Leslie Yager
Sate Rep Steve Meskers (D-150) at town hall. June 17, 2022 Photo: Leslie Yager
State Senator Ryan Fazio (R-36) at town hall. June 17, 2022 Photo: Leslie Yager
State Rep Kimberly Fiorello (R-149) at town hall. June 17, 2022 Photo: Leslie Yager