Congressman Jake Auchincloss speaks with Select Board Chair Kevin Keane at Needham's Juneteenth celebration./ Credit: Needham Observer

Noting that Juneteenth is meant to invoke both deep sorrow and high hope, U.S. Rep. Jake Auchincloss spoke to a gathering on the Town Common on Wednesday to mark the holiday celebrating the end of slavery in the United States.

Led by Select Board Chair Kevin Keane, the event included remarks by state Sen. Rebecca Rausch and state Rep. Denise Garlick, and a reading of the Emancipation Proclamation by Needham High School rising senior Josh Rosenberg. 

Keane described how Juneteenth commemorates the day in 1865, more than two months after the end of the Civil War and more than two years after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, when enslaved Black Americans in Galveston, Texas, were informed they were free.

This is the day when America became a little more American,” he said.

NHS rising senior Josh Rosenberg read the Emancipation Proclamation at Needham’s Juneteenth celebration./ Credit: Needham Observer

Auchincloss told of his recent trip with a Congressional delegation to Alabama to walk the civil rights sites, and his conversation with U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams of Georgia, the successor to civil rights pioneer John Lewis, who said election officials in Georgia “are delisting voters – disproportionately Black voters.” Auchincloss said Lewis reminded Americans that voting rights are “the fundamental guarantor of the ‘absolute equality’ envisioned by the Juneteenth proclamation. And that right of access and empowerment at the ballot box continues to be undermined.”

Calling Georgia a “bulwark of federal democracy” for supporting the Constitution during the 2020 election, Auchincloss said, “The enemies of free and fair elections are working hard to erode that bulwark in advance of November. Some of their tactics are new, but the theme is very old: denying Black voters the franchise.“

On Juneteenth, we resolve to fight back. We will use every lever of law and every avenue of advocacy to ensure that every voter is clothed in the dignity of citizenship and that every vote is tallied,” said Auchincloss. “The legacy of Juneteenth demands nothing less.”

Rausch referenced the words of ancient Jewish scholars and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who said justice delayed is justice denied. “Juneteenth recognizes two-and-a-half long years of justice delayed. It recognizes the justice denied to generations of Black Americans. Perhaps the deeply determined pursuit of justice and freedom, equity and acceptance will right the wrongs of justice deferred.” 

Garlick said she was moved that the Juneteenth event was being held for the first time on the Town Common. “It is a public demonstration on the steps of our Town Hall, and shows that our community is actively engaged in working to better understand and acknowledge our country’s history,” she said. She shared a quote from social justice advocate Angela Rye, saying it matches the reason she was there to celebrate Juneteenth. “Whether it’s freedom to express, freedom to live, freedom to earn, freedom to thrive, freedom to learn. Whatever it is, I want to make sure that I’m part of these spaces and opening doors.” 

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